Politics & Government

Sedgwick County Commission, with new majority, changes legislative platform

The new majority on the Sedgwick County Commission set a new tone Wednesday for how it will approach government’s role in the community it serves. The new majority is Jim Howell, left, Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau, shown here at the Sedgwick County Republican Party election watch party last year. (Nov. 4, 2014)
The new majority on the Sedgwick County Commission set a new tone Wednesday for how it will approach government’s role in the community it serves. The new majority is Jim Howell, left, Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau, shown here at the Sedgwick County Republican Party election watch party last year. (Nov. 4, 2014) File photo

The new majority on the Sedgwick County Commission flexed its muscles Wednesday, indicating through several votes how it intends to approach government’s role in the community it serves.

During a nearly four-hour meeting, the commission reversed several decisions made last year. It changed the county’s legislative platform passed Nov. 19, repealed some resolutions passed earlier, reduced funding for a health care program for uninsured residents, and voted against entering an agreement with the state for a $580,000 program to control and reduce health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease among residents.

“We made some basic commonsense decisions,” new chairman Richard Ranzau said.

The board’s majority flipped when Jim Howell, a former state representative, was sworn in earlier this month to replace Jim Skelton in District 5, which covers the southeast part of the county including Derby.

Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Ranzau had been in the minority, with Skelton and board members Tim Norton and Dave Unruh in the majority.

Now Ranzau is chairman of the board. He, Peterjohn and Howell have voted together on issues on which the board splits its vote. All commissioners are Republican except for Norton, who is a Democrat.

Ranzau said it was frustrating to be in the minority the past four years.

“For four years, it’s been difficult to get anything passed. It’s hard for people to sometimes fully understand the issues and know what’s going on and some of the internal politics and how things play,” he said.

On certain issues he disagreed with the past few years, he said, other commissioners would tell him behind the scenes “ ‘Yeah, you’re probably right, but I have to do what staff says,’ ” Ranzau said. “Staff isn’t always right. It felt good to be productive and head us in the right direction.”

Unruh, who was chairman last year, said he didn’t think that Wednesday’s actions necessarily meant that everything would go a different direction now.

“I’m not willing to project that,” he said.

Commissioners changed the legislative platform in several ways:

▪ They urged the state to allow the county to replace its property tax mill levy with a sales tax. Peterjohn has been pushing to replace property taxes with a sales tax for years.

The legislative platform passed earlier said that “Sedgwick County supports legislation that gives counties the same sales tax options as cities.”

The new version says in part that “Sedgwick County needs to be able to eliminate its property tax mill levy and replace this levy with a sales tax. Kansas law prevents Sedgwick County from being able to take this action.”

Commissioner Tim Norton voted against the change.

▪ They called for residents to be able to vote for mill levy increases. Unruh and Norton voted against removing a caveat that would have excluded minor adjustments.

▪ They changed wording about the county health department to say it should focus on “the education and management of communicable diseases and disaster preparedness and response. We oppose federal intervention in local health departments via ‘health department accreditation’ and strongly support legislation that prohibits state and local health departments from relinquishing control of their standards to anyone but the state legislature.”

The original platform said that the county’s health department relies upon funding administered through the Kansas Department of Health Environment to support “critical public health infrastructure to improve the health of Sedgwick County’s residents by preventing disease, promoting wellness and protecting the public from health threats.”

Unruh and Norton voted against that change.

▪ They opposed legislation providing driver’s permits to illegal immigrants. The city of Wichita’s legislative agenda supports such a bill.

▪ They added that the county supports legislation that would move municipal elections to the fall in even- or odd-numbered years and encourage more people to vote by reversing the order of offices on the ballot. County elections already are in the fall.

The full platform is on the county’s website at www.sedgwickcounty.org.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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