Politics & Government

Wichita City Council to evaluate priorities after sales tax defeat

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer discusses the city’s need to press ahead to meet the fiscal challenges the City Council faces following the defeat of the 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax vote Tuesday. (Nov. 5, 2014)
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer discusses the city’s need to press ahead to meet the fiscal challenges the City Council faces following the defeat of the 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax vote Tuesday. (Nov. 5, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

After a sound defeat of the 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax, the Wichita City Council will regroup to find ways to address water, transit, streets and jobs that would have been funded by the tax, said Mayor Carl Brewer.

“The outcome of the vote is now known and it’s time for us … to move forward and address concerns that are not going away,” Brewer said at a media briefing with other council members Wednesday morning.

But the upcoming spring election, which will bring a new mayor and the potential for new council members, could change the council’s priorities and how it will fund them.

Mayor Carl Brewer cannot run again after serving two terms. Of the current council members, Jeff Longwell has termed out but has filed paperwork to run for mayor, and Pete Meitzner and Jeff Blubaugh will face re-election.

“The priorities don’t go away. … We will definitely be engaging those people and listening to those who are running,” said council member James Clendenin. “We’ll have to come together as a council, as one cohesive unit, to solve these problems.”

It will be a challenge to balance a campaign and staying engaged with the community and determining its priorities, Longwell said.

“But we’re out there in the public and it’s an opportunity for us to listen – whether we should have bundled (the tax measures), whether we didn’t have the right components of the plan – those are things we need to sit down and figure out, and we have a little bit of time,” he said. “We’re not going to fall apart today or tomorrow or the next day or the next year. We can get it right but it does need to be addressed.”

In the near future, the most pressing issue for the council will likely be transit, which is “probably in the most peril” because it’s going to be short of funding in 2016, said Longwell.

On the jobs front, several council members said they were not giving up just yet.

“I can’t imagine anybody who thinks (1 percent) is acceptable,” Meitzner said. “If you’re in a business with 1 percent growth, you probably won’t be in business very long. If we could grow without the city’s involvement in anything in job growth, great.”

But other communities are competing in the incentives market, Meitzner said, and Wichita needs to decide whether it’s going to compete or “sit on the sidelines.”

The city is still in talks with other local groups who are planning to develop job “clusters” outside aviation in an effort to diversify the local economy.

“One percent job growth is unacceptable for a city of our size and our potential,” Brewer said. “Wichita has some of the most skilled and best workers in the world. We need much better job growth to keep them here.”

“The clock is ticking for Wichita and we must act in an urgent manner while competing cities are moving forward.”

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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