Jon Rolph: Let citizens vote on Wichita’s priorities

08/03/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 2:35 PM

Once again we have before us a matter of some urgency and considerable importance. On Tuesday the Wichita City Council will decide whether the ballot for the November election will include a proposition to fund some important community priorities.

Before I go on explaining what this is about, I want to state as plainly as I can that we should demand that this decision be placed in our hands. We should be the ones to decide if this is, indeed, the time to look further down the road and build a community that meets the needs of our children and our grandchildren.

Over the past few years, city staff members held more than 100 meetings across the city – in churches, schools, neighborhoods, nonprofit organizations and business groups. They asked about priorities and for people to contribute their ideas and preferences for ways to improve various aspects of life in Wichita. They also asked about how to fund those priorities.

The City Council responded by incorporating the product of this process into its strategic planning. And this summer it came down, as it always does, to these two questions: What do we need to do and how do we pay for it?

People said they preferred to pay for it with a 1-cent sales tax over the next five years. This is similar to how we paid for the Intrust Bank Arena. Most people agree, even many of those who opposed it at the time, that this project was an effective use of our money.

We need to develop an additional source of water to ensure that we have enough to meet our anticipated needs even in years of moderate or extreme drought. This has almost universal support. Water is life. We need only look at what is already happening elsewhere in our country to know why this needs to be a priority for us. If we wait until the crisis is upon us, it will be too late to do anything about it. We know that we have the means to meet this challenge if we choose to.

We need jobs. To do that, we need to make Wichita stand out as a place to establish or expand a business. After the recession hit in 2008, we lost 31,000 jobs. We regained about 11,000 of them, leaving a six-year net loss of 20,000 jobs. That’s about equivalent to the population of Derby. Over the past 13 years we have averaged only a 1 percent growth rate in jobs, which should be a wake-up call to all of us. As it is in nature, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

The other priorities addressed in the proposal are the city’s mass transit system and infrastructure issues, such as repairing our neighborhood streets.

All of us need to note that there is a unique element in this proposal. Oversight and accountability for the effective use of the funds will be provided by a panel of private citizens.

Let’s get this on the ballot. Let’s have a public discussion between now and November. We need to understand the cost of doing something and price of doing nothing.

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