Politics & Government

Citizen simulators say increase Wichita police and fire services, cut golf and arts

Firefighters battle two-alarm fire in north Wichita

Multiple units from the Wichita Fire Department were called to a fire in a building at 20th and Broadway on Sunday evening, Feb. 12, 2017. Broadway was closed between 19th and 21st, and emergency officials shut down the railroad tracks in the area
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Multiple units from the Wichita Fire Department were called to a fire in a building at 20th and Broadway on Sunday evening, Feb. 12, 2017. Broadway was closed between 19th and 21st, and emergency officials shut down the railroad tracks in the area

Wichita’s fire and police departments got high scores while golf courses and cultural affairs departments suffered in budget simulations run by local residents, the city government said Wednesday.

The city released the results of the budget simulation drill during a social media town hall Wednesday.

About 1,400 residents responded to the invitation to complete the simulation, the first time the city has used that type of technology to help guide its spending decisions.

The simulation invited citizens to propose increases or decreases in 40 areas of discretionary city spending.

Their theoretical tax bill, based on their property valuation, rose and fell with the choices they made.

Eighty-five percent of respondents indicated they’d be OK with increasing taxes by an average of 4.61 percent.

The area where respondents wanted to increase spending the most was fire services and medical rescue. They proposed 4.04 percent more for the Fire Department.

“It’s better than being at the bottom of the list,” said fire Division Chief T.A. Gattis. “Increasing us was much more expensive (than increasing some other departments), but they were still willing to do it.”

Various police services also scored high, with residents supporting a 3.46 percent increase for emergency response, 3.4 percent more for investigation of violent crimes and 3.05 percent more for training.

Street maintenance rounded out the top five with respondents proposing a 2.97 percent increase.

Golf was the clear loser in the budget simulation, with residents proposing a 2.81 percent cut.

The golf course system is largely operated as an enterprise fund designed to pay its own way from player revenues.

But City Manager Robert Layton said that golf was included in the budget scenarios because it is receiving some city support through the capital improvement budget, and the city provides some services that the golf fund isn’t currently paying back.

The city has a head start on cutting golf. The council voted two weeks ago to close Clapp Golf Course, one of five city courses, as of Aug. 2.

The Airport Authority and the Water and Sewer Department do pay for themselves and were not included in the budget simulation, Layton said.

Residents also indicated they’d be fine with a .72 percent cut to the CityArts gallery and art education center. Cultural arts grants were the next on the chopping block at minus-.68.

Residents said they’d like to spend .36 percent less on library branches and .35 percent less on City Hall’s communications office.

City Councilman Bryan Frye said the simulation is one tool that will help the real council make hard choices on the real budget.

But members also plan to take other public comments into account, including those from the social media town hall, e-mails and letters, and the official live budget hearings.

The simulation “is another opportunity for the public to engage and share their ideas,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
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