Residents to get first chance to comment on proposed Sedgwick County budget

Sedgwick County residents will get their first opportunity Wednesday to tell commissioners in person what they think of the proposed $413.9million county budget.

Commissioners are expected to set the maximum property tax levy for the year before the budget hearing. After that, they can only cut or shift funds within the budget, but not increase it, Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said Monday.

The current budget recommendation before the commission is for $413,902,281 in spending, an adjustment of about $650,000 more than the original estimate of $413,250,292.

The difference between the two numbers is an increase in the county’s required payments to the Kansas Police and Firemen's Retirement System, said Kristi Zukovich, county spokeswoman.

Although the spending will be slightly higher than forecast, the county plans to cover the difference from reserve funds rather than raising the property tax rate, which will stay stable at $29.359 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The budget will include a 2.5 percent wage pool to give merit-based pay increases to county employees.

Firefighters in the county fire district, who are under a separate budget and have their own union contract, will get a raise pool of at least 1 percent and possibly as much as 3 percent, depending on the amount of increase in property valuation, Holt said.

The assessed valuation of property in the county is expected to rise seven-tenths of a percent this year.

Commissioner Tim Norton said he doesn’t expect any major changes to the budget proposal submitted by County Manager William Buchanan. Part of the reason is that the county’s financial situation seems to be stabilizing after several years of deep cuts, he said.

“It trims up some programs that are in need of trimming up,” while “restoring a little bit of money” in areas that have seen deep cuts, such as Exploration Place and the Sedgwick County Zoo, he said.

He said it “nibbles around the edges” of funding for mental health and some other community services. Those are expected to get pass-through support from the federal government, but “Until you get it in grant form, you still don’t know what it’s going to be,” Norton said.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the county courthouse, 525 N. Main St., Wichita.

A second public hearing is scheduled at the same time and place on July 31, with a vote on adopting the budget set for Aug. 7.