Wichitans are one step closer to being asked to pay a sales tax to support the city’s struggling transit system.
Transit advisory board members have voted to recommend a one-tenth of a cent sales tax to the Wichita City Council as it considers what to do about a $2 million shortfall the bus system will face next year.
A sales tax of one-tenth of a cent is the same amount transit would have received if voters had approved a 1-cent bundled sales tax last fall. That tax was projected to raise $400 million over five years to pay for transit, street maintenance, a new water supply and a jobs fund.
The new proposed tax would generate $7.1 million next year and more than $8 million by 2018 and for the next several years, according to projections.
Of that, about $3 million a year would go toward paying transit’s debt service to the city, said transit director Steve Spade. The other $5 million would pay for improvements to the system, like extended routes and hours, he said.
Transit advisory board members plan to present the sales tax recommendation to the council at its workshop July 7.
Later in July, City Manager Robert Layton will present his budget to the council, which includes the $2 million shortfall.
Council members will approve a budget in early August. If they heed the recommendation, they may decide to put the sales tax proposal before voters in a special fall election.
If they choose to do nothing about the shortfall, bus system routes and frequency will have to be reduced.
Advisory board members also plan to brief the council on funding scenarios for the system as a whole if the shortfall is not addressed.
“There needs to be a plan B – we can’t put all of our eggs into one basket if the referendum doesn’t pass,” said Moji Fanimokun, advisory board chair and former co-chair of Yes Wichita, which supported last fall’s sales tax. “We hope they make the (decision) keeping in mind all of the citizens of Wichita.”
Spade said that if the council decides to go through with “significant service reductions,” transit is required by the federal government to hold public hearings documenting comments by those affected.
“The council understands the situation and I think they’ve got some hard choices to make,” Spade said.