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Sedgwick County plans worker pay hike, upgrades to health and emergency services

Sedgwick County Chief Financial Officer Lindsay Poe Rousseau answers questions during Wednesday’s presentation of the Sedgwick County budget.
Sedgwick County Chief Financial Officer Lindsay Poe Rousseau answers questions during Wednesday’s presentation of the Sedgwick County budget. The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County’s employees could be in line for a raise, and there may soon be more of them providing mental health and emergency services.

The county’s proposed budget released Wednesday includes a 2.5 percent across-the-board increase in employee pay, plus a 1.5 percent pool to give one-time bonuses to high-performing employees. That means some employees will make up to 4 percent more next year than this year, officials said.

It also includes funding for adding mental health professionals in suburban public schools, along with more emergency dispatchers and health coordinators.

The budget holds the property tax rate stable, although the county will get some additional revenue from rising property values.

The fairly rosy county budget was released Wednesday morning, a day after the city of Wichita put forth an austere 2019 spending plan proposing the closure of two libraries and a golf course.

Overall, the budget submitted by County Manager Michael Scholes covers just short of $440 million in spending, including the general county government and the fire district that serves the unincorporated county.

Among the highlights:

Community health: The budget proposes adding five positions to provide mental health support to suburban school districts. That would extend the effort beyond the 55 professionals now working in Wichita schools, Scholes said.

The budget also adds two “community collaborator” positions. Both will work to mesh county and private services. One will work with community stakeholders on substance abuse issues, seeking to address problems with methamphetamine addiction and a growing problem with abuse of prescription opioid pain killers.

The budget also adds back a position for a public health educator to promote diabetes prevention and smoking cessation. It’s one of five educator positions that had been eliminated in 2015 by a previous commission majority that was focused on shrinking government.

Public safety: The budget plan adds six more call-takers in the 911 emergency system to improve response times for emergency services.

The budget also adds an ambulance and crew to Fire Station 39 in Garden Plain to beef up emergency services in the western portion of the county. Scholes said an additional ambulance is needed especially to handle emergency calls to Afton and Cheney lakes.

There is also money for the first phase of a three-year program for new radios and records management systems for public-safety and public works departments.

In criminal justice, the budget contains an additional $200,000 in funding to meet a growing need to pay attorneys to provide defense services for criminal suspects who can’t afford a lawyer.

Office space: The budget continues to move toward replacing the county offices at the courthouse, to free space for needed expansion of the district attorney’s office and district court.

The county staff is waiting for commissioners to make a decision on whether to buy a new county building or build additional space adjacent to the existing courthouse.

“We’ll need a decision on that within the February to May time frame next year,” Chief Financial Officer Lindsay Poe Rousseau told county commissioners Wednesday.

Sedgwick County Sheriff's Sgt. Clayton Barth saw a car that had crashed into a Wichita creek on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. He helped two women and two children get to safety.