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Close two libraries, cut economic development, add police, says Wichita budget plan

1,000 volunteers pitch in to move books to new library

Over 1,000 volunteers lined the streets in downtown as 100 items from the old Wichita library were moved to the new Advanced Learning Library. The ceremonial items included books and various items that represented the library. (June 16, 2018)
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Over 1,000 volunteers lined the streets in downtown as 100 items from the old Wichita library were moved to the new Advanced Learning Library. The ceremonial items included books and various items that represented the library. (June 16, 2018)

City Hall’s new proposed budget would shutter two libraries and slice economic development by a third, while adding police officers and increasing spending for street maintenance.

Public libraries in two of Wichita’s lower-income neighborhoods — Evergreen and Linwood — would close over the next two years under the proposal from City Manager Robert Layton.

The plan would cut economic development funding by a third, with all of the remaining money going to the Greater Wichita Partnership, a public-private consortium.

The budget also would add 32 positions to the police department next year. And it would increase the street maintenance budget to $10 million, $2 million more than this year.

Layton also has proposed changes at CityArts, Old Cowtown Museum and the animal shelter, in which private or nonprofit groups would operate those facilities while city staff would provide maintenance and oversight.

Layton made the recommendations Tuesday as the Wichita City Council got its first public briefing on the annual budget.

Among the key proposals:

Libraries: The Linwood branch library, in a recreation center near Hydraulic and Mount Vernon in south Wichita, would close in 2019.

The Evergreen branch, at 2601 N. Arkansas in north Wichita, could close in 2020 “as the library system transitions to a different model,” city officials said.

The proposed library branch closures come just weeks after the city opened the Advanced Learning Library at Second and McLean in downtown Wichita. The new $38 million library replaced the aging Central Library at 223 S. Main, which is vacant.

“Closing Linwood in 2019 produces relatively small savings of $110,000; however, its location is not ideal, its impact on system performance is relatively small and its patrons seem very likely to utilize the new Advanced Learning Library,” the budget proposal said.

A study by Wichita State University last year, which analyzed the populations around each Wichita library branch, found that the typical Linwood patrons are blue-collar labor and service workers making $30,000 a year or less, with a high-school education.

Evergreen “is the lowest performing regional/district library; closing this location would reduce system circulation and visits by an estimated 8 percent,” the budget said. “This library also has the smallest service area of the regional/district libraries, serving an estimated 28,000 residents (compared to 85,000, 97,000 and 55,000 for Westlink, Rockwell and Alford, respectively). ... The closing or restructuring of this location in 2020 will be studied in the upcoming year.”

The Evergreen branch serves a significant number of Hispanic residents, the study said, who have less access to technology and a need for English literacy programs. The branch also serves a high number of retirees, the study said.

Rachel Rojas was at the Evergreen Library on Tuesday afternoon. She said losing the library would be very detrimental to the Hispanic community in the neighborhood because the library’s Spanish resources help its patrons associate with Hispanic culture.

Also at the library, Elena Neece, a family worker, said she can understand the need to save money, but if the library were to close, the city should make sure there is some alternative in the area, such as a smaller library or book vending machines.

“Removing the library means that kids won’t have one of the first opportunities they could have to develop a reading habit,” Neece said. “If the city closes the library, then they need to make sure the library’s services are somehow still offered.”

Earlier this year the library closed its Comotara branch in northeast Wichita, which operated inside the Dillons store at 21st and Rock Road. The library lost its rent-free space because the store wanted to expand its services to customers.

Economic development: The budget proposal would cut economic development spending from $775,000 to $500,000, with all of the remaining money going to the Greater Wichita Partnership.

The partnership “would have the responsibility to implement the region’s needs within the parameters of the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth (including) small-business assistance, workforce development and domestic and international business attraction,” the budget said.

The plan would eliminate direct city funding for the Wichita Independent Business Association, Kansas Global, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Workforce Alliance, Sister Cities and the Hispanic governmental relations firm Molera Alvarez.

Police: The budget proposal adds about $3.4 million in annual funding for 32 new positions in the police department, starting late this year.

The budget forecasts adding 21 new commissioned officers, including two sergeants, six detectives and 13 patrol officers. The other 11 additions would be in nonsworn positions, including six community service officers, a crime analyst supervisor and four crime analysts.

Layton’s proposal calls for replacing four police stations and five fire stations, at a cost of $41.5 million.

Streets: The proposal calls for an immediate 20 percent increase in spending for the city’s outsourced pavement preservation program, which identifies streets in need of repair and fixes them.

“Pavement maintenance is an untouchable activity (meaning it can’t be cut), and is directly aligned to the City’s mission of building dependable infrastructure,” the budget said.

The budget for that program would go from a current $8 million a year to $10 million next year. The budget would increase annually to a maximum of $13 million in 2024.

Parks and culture: L.W. Clapp Golf Course in south Wichita would close Sept. 30 under the budget proposal — a move approved by the Wichita Park Board earlier this month. In addition, Layton has proposed “seasonal furloughs and rolling winter closures” at city golf courses.

“Without adjustments, the Golf Fund will be unsustainable,” he said in a statement released Tuesday.

Layton’s proposal calls for changing the operating model at CityArts, a gallery and classroom space in Old Town Square. Beginning next year, a private partner would operate the gallery and boutique, while the city would provide art classes, the plan says.

At Old Cowtown Museum, operations would change in 2020 to a model where the city provides maintenance and oversight while a nonprofit operates the facility, the proposal says.

Animal control: Operations at the city’s animal shelter would change in July 2019, the plan says.

A private partner, rather than the Wichita Police Department, would operate the shelter. “This would allow WPD to focus on animal control enforcement,” the plan says.

Downtown: The proposal calls for $33.9 million to fund downtown projects, including improvements to Douglas Avenue, First Street and Second Street, and $22 million for the city’s aquatics plan.

A combination of tax increment financing, STAR bonds, guest tax funds and general obligation bonds would finance a planned $79 million redevelopment of the west bank of the Arkansas River, according to the proposal.

“Debt levels will increase, but not beyond benchmark levels, and would decrease toward the end of the 10-year planning schedule,” officials said in the news release.

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