Politics & Government

Wichita City Council holds quick initial budget meeting

Wichita City Council (April 14, 2015)
Wichita City Council (April 14, 2015) File photo

In a stark contrast to the marathon budget hearing Sedgwick County had last week, the Wichita City Council’s first hearing on its budget was short and sweet.

Only two members of the public took to the podium Tuesday to talk to the council about its spending plan. And they only spoke about 10 minutes on the mostly status quo budget proposed by City Manager Robert Layton.

Layton told the council that the $227 million city budget comes with neither spending cuts nor tax increases. He said after the meeting that cuts and reorganization over the past three years had negated the need for further cuts now.

It was a contrast to last week’s county budget hearing, where about 50 residents protested proposed cuts in health, education, the arts and local attractions including the Sedgwick County Zoo and Exploration Place.

The two residents speaking at the city meeting were Sharon Ailslieger of the League of Women Voters and Sybil Strum, a meeting regular who speaks frequently to the council on various matters.

Ailslieger told the council that the League wants to take another crack at a “small sales tax” to support public transit.

“Our position is based on two years of study,” she said.

Voters in November rejected a larger 1 percent sales tax that would have generated some money for the bus system, along with funding for economic development and street and water system maintenance.

The two wrinkles in the city budget that Layton highlighted both had to do with county cuts.

One is a proposal by the county that would make the city pick up $400,000 of the cost of operating the day-reporting center that monitors low-level criminal offenders. The program offers substance abuse treatment, domestic violence counseling and other services as an alternative to jail incarceration.

Most of the participants in the program come via Wichita’s Municipal Court.

With the county cut probable, Layton said, the city will need to study the cost and benefit of day reporting and consider other options.

The other issue had to do with about $155,000 in county cuts proposed in the shared city-county Planning Department.

The conservative majority of the Sedgwick County Commission has indicated an interest in cutting back on comprehensive planning, historic preservation, environmental review and implementation of bike and pedestrian plans.

Layton said he intends to hold talks with the county about reorganizing planning and determining what the role of the department will be going forward. He left open the possibility of bringing a budget amendment to the council later.

Both speakers who addressed the council Tuesday encouraged city officials to continue to try to work with the county.

Ailslieger urged the city to “put the hand out in friendship and not get into turf battles.”

Strum, as usual, was more blunt.

“Let’s quit being spoiled brats and work together as one,” she said.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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