Politics & Government

Sedgwick County departments request $10 million in additional funding

The Emergency Medical Services is asking the Sedgwick County Commission for additional funds for an advanced critical care transport unit.
The Emergency Medical Services is asking the Sedgwick County Commission for additional funds for an advanced critical care transport unit. File photo

Sedgwick County departments are asking for nearly $10 million to pay for staffing increases and equipment upgrades for next year.

The budget requests from all departments total about $413 million for next year, up from the $412.3 million budget adopted in August.

The county hosted its first of six budget hearings, which included budget requests to fund county functions that run the gamut from Emergency Medical Services to support for cultural attractions like Exploration Place.

We’ve reached the point where we can no longer do more with less.

Michael Scholes, Sedgwick County manager

“We’ve reached the point where we can no longer do more with less,” said County Manager Michael Scholes. “To continue providing timely and effective services as demanded by our constitutents, department managers have requested nearly $10 million of additions to the budget.”

The additional requests presented Monday ranged from newer radios for firefighters to more staff members to handle 911 calls.

“None of these requests are frivolous, but we will definitely need to evaluate their relative priority,” Scholes said.

Here’s what you need to know from the first hearing.

Outlook for 2017

Sedgwick County has a projected deficit of $1.7 million in its general fund for 2017.

Budget director Lindsay Poe-Rousseau said county staff members in February expected a general fund surplus for next year. But she said that became a deficit when factoring in an additional $2 million for a new law enforcement training center and more money for a day-reporting program that keeps people out of jail.

Poe-Rousseau said the county expects to see more revenue from an increase in home values.

“We do continue to plan for modest growth in our other revenue streams,” she added, referencing sales tax revenue.

But the county also plans to spend more more money on employee compensation and health care costs.

The budget staff also expects the county to spend $3.4 million in cash on roads and bridges projects that in past years would have been financed with debt.

That shift was a major battleground in last year’s budget cycle. Although the commission majority said that choice reduced the county’s debt burden, other commissioners say it forced unnecessary cuts to public health, economic development and culture.

More to public safety?

Various public safety departments on Monday asked for $3.3 million more than their actual budget requests.

The county’s emergency management director, Elora Forshee, said the spread of cellphones has strained 911 services.

“We are in a place in 911 both as an industry and as a county where we just have ever-growing call volume,” she said. “We have more calls coming in than we’re able to answer with the current staffing that we have.”

Forshee said more staff members are needed to help meet the demand. She said the extra staff would help lower overtime costs the department has had to resort to to handle the call volume.

“We are trying to be efficient and effective … but we have done all that we feel like we can do,” she said. “We need to ask for some help.”

EMS is also asking for money for an advanced critical care transport unit to help stabilize patients. And Sedgwick County’s Fire District One is asking to replace its aging radios, to the tune of about $789,000.

Cultural partners

The county pulled some of its support for culture and recreation last year, reducing its funding for the Wichita Arts Council and the River Festival to zero.

The Sedgwick County Fair Association, the Kansas African American Museum and the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum together requested about $300,000 from the county, on par with last year.

Exploration Place saw a $35,000 cut in 2016 from the previous year. Its $2.2 million request for 2017 is on par with what it is receiving this year.

Assistant county manager Ron Holt said the Sedgwick County Zoo has not submitted its funding request yet. The zoological society and the county are negotiating a new funding agreement after the county terminated it last year.

The zoo received about $5.6 million in this year’s budget, with an additional $150,000 in restricted funding for keepers for the new elephant exhibit.

What’s next

There are five departmental budget hearings to go, with the next hearing set for Tuesday.

Scholes will present his recommended budget to the Sedgwick County Commission on July 13.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar