Two Sedgwick County commissioners who often vote against spending voted Wednesday to put $48,000 back into next year’s budget to fund the Sedgwick County Extension Center, the Wichita River Festival and the Mediation Center of Wichita.
Although County Manager William Buchanan and the board’s chairman urged them not to, commissioners agreed 4-1 to restore funding in next year’s budget. The extension center will get $30,000, earmarked for its 4-H program. The River Festival will get $10,000, and the mediation center, which helps keep cases out of court, will get $8,000.
The county is operating with a deficit, and Buchanan said doling out the $48,000 won’t help the county’s position. The money will come out of the commission’s contingency fund, a pool of money set aside for use at the board’s discretion. The county is working toward a balanced budget for 2013.
Commissioners have been debating for weeks whether to restore the money. They voted in June to cut funding to the groups. Other groups, such as Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Girl Empowerment Program of the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas, lost all funding from the county.
The board passed the county’s budget for next year in August and put money back into the pot for possible future disbursement.
Commission chairman Dave Unruh was the lone vote against restoring funding.
“I feel compelled to make a comment,” Unruh said before the vote. “We are going to end the year this year with a deficit position. It is estimated that we will be unbalanced and in deficit next year. It just seems to me that we approved a budget that made very severe cuts to many different agencies.”
He said the county, when it sees light at the end of the tunnel, shouldn’t go out and buy more tunnel.
Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who often votes against spending taxpayer dollars, said he voted for restoring funding because he didn’t support cutting the extension center’s budget in the first place. He said the $8,000 for the mediation center will pay off by keeping some cases out of court. He said the county cut funding to the River Festival by $15,000.
“I would have been fine not giving them anything, but I had talked to Tim Norton yesterday and he liked the idea of sponsoring a particular event, perhaps a dance for elderly people.”
Commissioner Jim Skelton noted the money was coming out of the commission’s budget.
As he has in the past, Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said the county would be in better financial shape if it hadn’t approved 2 percent raises. Peterjohn voted against the raises.
Unruh quickly asked Peterjohn if he wanted to roll back the raises.
Peterjohn said no, he didn’t suggest that. He said he merely meant that actions have consequences.
“That’s exactly my point,” Unruh said, explaining why he was voting against spending the money.
After the meeting, Buchanan joked with Ranzau that he had voted to pick winners and losers.
When voting on whether to give private businesses incentives, Ranzau often says it’s not the county’s job to pick winners and losers.