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Wichita's proposed budget: Jobs cut; no tax increase

The city of Wichita used to go out and plant new trees wherever it saw an opportunity.

An oak here, an elm there — about 3,000 a year in all.

But now the reforestation program could be axed in half as the city hunts for ways to save money in a dire budget year.

The $50,000 that remains would be used to match money put up by residents who want new trees on public land.

That's just one of the many cuts City Manager Robert Layton has proposed in his 2011-2012 budget.

The biggest chunk of savings — $6.4 million — comes from Layton's proposal to cut 65 jobs, put workers and managers on furlough and consolidate departments and divisions in City Hall.

Among the jobs lost are two police administrative assistants, the police spokesperson, a sergeant in the warrant office, two school liaison police officers and four school resource officers.

That means that after years of having police in many middle schools and some elementary schools, only high schools will have full-time police officers.

Layton said the city and school district hope that better budget years will lead to a new discussion on policing in schools.

"We're all better off if we can have a positive police influence in our schools," he said.

Layton's proposal would keep all existing police officers on the streets, and the school officers would take on beat assignments.

The city may hire eight more officers if it wins a federal grant.

All told, public safety still makes up nearly 60 percent of the city's general fund spending.

Layton plans to save another $1 million by having groups like the YMCA conduct some of the recreation activities the city has traditionally offered while the city handles more community education programs.

It's unclear how that might shake out because the city hasn't finished its discussions with its potential partners.

"You may see a different provider for your recreation services, but you'll hopefully see as good or better services," he said.

As expected, the city plans to hike water rates by 8 percent and sewer rates by 8 percent on Jan. 1, 2011.

Layton expects to save about $700,000 a year by getting rid of vehicles in the city's fleet that are underused.

The city considered privatizing custodial services this year, but it decided not to after finding ways to trim $380,000 annually during discussions with the Service Employee International Union 513.

The cutbacks are a reaction to lower-than-expected tax and fee revenue.

But it's not all slash and burn.

The city won't increase its share of property taxes for the 17th year in a row.

Layton plans to inject $600,000 into residential street maintenance, which has been slipping for years.

He said he hoped to boost the street repair budget from $6 million to $10 million.

"But we cannot do that due to our financial condition," he said.

Meanwhile, Layton proposes transferring $2.5 million from the city's long-term projects budget to its economic development fund, which has been depleted.

The city's health insurance costs are also projected to grow by about $2 million, while pension costs will climb by $1.7 million.

Outside of that, Layton doesn't expect much growth in coming years.

He said the cutbacks at City Hall are part of "the new reality" driven by the economic downturn.

"We'll continue to be in a limited-growth environment for a number of years," he said.

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