Layoffs still possible as Wichita City Council tackles budget deficits

All options remain on the table, including layoffs, as the city wrestles with projected multimillion-dollar budget deficits for 2013 and 2014.

That’s the downside of two distinctly different doses of economic news the Wichita City Council will get Tuesday. The other is more positive: A recap of Project Downtown’s first year, which produced more than $150 million in public and private investment in the core area.

City Manager Robert Layton will hold his first public budget discussion with the council in a workshop Tuesday. The focus will be projected deficits of $5 million for 2013 and $6.5 million for 2014.

Already, Layton and city department directors have been crunching the budget, making revisions and refining personnel decisions to get those numbers down.

“There’s still a deficit, one that’s not quite as significant for 2013 and will require some policy discussion,” Layton said. “At this point, ’14 is still not looking great.”

The manager was noncommittal on the subject of layoffs to bridge the budget gap.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I don’t know that will be required. To this point, we’ve taken the actions that don’t require significant staff changes.”

The budget shortfall has been mitigated somewhat by early retirements and leaving some nonessential positions vacant.

“That doesn’t balance the budget, though,” Layton said. “To get to the final numbers, we may still be looking at job cuts.”

Mayor Carl Brewer said he’s willing to take that look, but remains skeptical that further layoffs won’t cut into essential public services.

“We’ve worked hard to be proactive with public safety, maintenance and the various amenities that our citizens want to have,” Brewer said. “Bottom line is we’re running fairly lean in those areas. Unless the manager can show us additional fat in those areas we can cut without impacting the quality of life for our citizens, then that would be where we’d need to reevaluate some things.”

The news from downtown is better: Scott Knebel, the city’s downtown revitalization director, and Jeff Fluhr, the president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., will recap the first year of Project Downtown, the city’s master plan for downtown revitalization.

The year included $60 million in completed projects downtown, Fluhr said: the Drury Plaza Broadview and Fairfield hotels and the Cargill Innovation Center. It also included $94 million in projects initiated last year, Fluhr said, with most slated for 2012 completion: The Ambassador Hotel, the Kansas Health Foundation expansion, the Henry’s building renovation, the Central Family YMCA and the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Several policy initiatives to manage downtown growth were implemented in 2012, Fluhr said, including the city’s public investment policy and a loan consortium of local bankers to finance downtown projects.