Politics & Government

Senior center funding frozen by Sedgwick County

Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell argues for more money for senior citizen centers.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell argues for more money for senior citizen centers. The Wichita Eagle

Despite pleas from dozens of senior citizens during public budget hearings, Sedgwick County said “no” to more funding for senior centers on Wednesday.

The County Commission capped senior center funding at its current level of $620,000 for the next year.

A request to add $78,000 for the centers has been the most contentious issue of the $419 million annual budget.

About 80 older residents came to a recent evening public hearing to support additional funding for the centers.

Aug. 9 budget hearing. FIle photo

Derby senior advocate Jim Burgess spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, telling the commission that increasing funding for the centers would cost taxpayers about 23 cents a year.

Slamming a quarter on the commission podium, he said “Here’s my fair share. It’s there. It’s yours.”

A move by Commissioner Jim Howell to add the $78,000 to four senior centers’ budgets died on a 3-2 vote.

Commissioner Michael O’Donnell voted with Howell; Richard Ranzau, David Unruh and David Dennis voted no.

Howell argued that the county is falling short on funding a senior center performance agreement dating to the early 2000s and a 1982 ballot measure where voters authorized up to one mill of property taxes for senior services.

A mill on the tax rate generates about $4.6 million, but the county is spending only .49 mills, less than half what voters authorized, Howell said.

Howell said his philosophy as a conservative Republican is that “You fund the things that work, you don’t fund the things that don’t work.”

Howell said four senior centers — Haysville, Oaklawn, Mulvane and Clearwater — have met the criteria for additional funding and filed the proper documentation.

His motion would have provided $22,000 each in additional funding for Haysville and Oaklawn and $17,000 each for Mulvane and Clearwater.

Ranzau countered that senior centers are listed as the lowest priority for funding on a list of 15 types of senior services the county provides money to.

And Unruh said that the budget already includes an increase of $100,000 for direct services that help individual senior citizens stay out of nursing homes and continue to live in their own homes.

With renovations under way, Laurel Alkire, executive director of Senior Services of Wichita, talks about the need to upgrade their facility and services as baby boomers head into retirement. (Sept. 24, 2017)

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas