To its credit, the Wichita City Council seems to be focusing on needs, not wants, as it reviews projects and considers a local sales tax ballot initiative. But even agreeing on that is proving challenging – and could be a difficult sell to the public.
One person’s pressing need is another person’s unnecessary spending.
The council also shouldn’t rush its decision to meet some artificial deadline.
Council members discussed at a workshop last week the potential projects researched by city staff. Because all the projects – which range from water and sewer to rail and bus service to renovating or replacing Century II – would total about $3 billion, the council began prioritizing.
A new water source had the most support – and was also the top priority of citizens in a community survey and in public engagement meetings. The preferred water option seems to be building a retention reservoir as part of the Aquifer Storage and Recovery project.
It’s unclear which, if any, of the other projects have majority support.
Several council members are interested in creating a $90 million jobs development fund, as recommended by city business leaders. But others worry that the fund could be a “poison pill” that dooms the initiative.
Though citizens have indicated that jobs should be a priority, it is not clear whether they support financial incentives to businesses – or would support funding the incentives by paying a higher sales tax when they buy milk or make other purchases.
Stabilizing funding for the bus system also appeals to some council members, as do street repairs and improvements. But others wonder if these expenditures should be paid for through the city’s regular budget and not a special sales tax.
Most of the quality-of-life enhancements seem to be lower priorities to a majority of council members. But some argue that these enhancements – such as renovating Lawrence-Dumont Stadium or building a new Central Library – are needed to broaden the appeal of the initiative.
Council members will continue their discussion at Tuesday’s meeting and could potentially – though it seems unlikely – agree on a final list and the terms of the sales tax increase. Voters would make the final decision during the November election on whether to raise the sales tax.
Informal discussions about city projects have been going on for some time, and the city spent months surveying the public and conducting engagement meetings. But council members need to take their time debating and considering the options.
What they include or don’t include could determine whether the initiative succeeds or goes down in flames.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee