Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan did what county commissioners asked him to do and crafted a 2013 budget that eliminates a $9.3 million deficit. But make no mistake – it comes with a human toll.
It also calls into question the county’s cutting of property taxes in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Those cumulative 2 mills of property-tax cuts would have generated about $8 million in revenue next year – enough to cover nearly all of the proposed budget cuts.
In addition to eliminating 113 positions, 79 or which are currently filled, the proposed budget would reduce support for the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly and many others. It also would make sizable budget cuts to the Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place, Lake Afton Park, the county’s health department and Emergency Medical Service, the county extension center, and a number of other services and attractions.
Buchanan also is recommending closing the Judge James Riddel Boys Ranch. That’s a terrible decision that is projected to result in 39 more crimes each year and higher jail costs. But Buchanan argues that the county can’t afford to keep subsidizing the state program, especially when the ranch buildings also need major capital improvements.
“It’s a painful budget,” Buchanan told The Eagle editorial board, acknowledging that people’s lives will be affected negatively.
But the county has been tapping into its reserve funds to cover budget shortfalls. It can’t keep doing that much longer, particularly when property valuations are expected to be flat for the next couple of years.
Buchanan also doesn’t have faith that the economy will rebound anytime soon. And he expects that Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts will result in even more state budget cuts, some of which will be off-loaded on local governments.
“I see no shining light in the financial tunnel,” Buchanan said.
The county needs to tighten its belt and prioritize its services. But with the exception of a few fee increases, the budget proposal addresses only one side of the ledger – expenses.
The county could revoke some of its recent tax cuts. Even a half mill increase, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about 50 cents a month, would generate about $2 million – enough to keep the boys ranch open and avoid cuts to senior centers and some other services.
Is that even an option?
“We’re not doing it,” Buchanan said.
But Buchanan confided that the proposed service cuts are not what his career has been about. And for those who think one role of government is to help the less fortunate, Buchanan was blunt in describing his budget proposal: