Elections

County hopefuls focus on property taxes

Both candidates for Sedgwick County commissioner in the 4th District say they would not have supported a 2006 county property tax increase.

But they differ on whether the county should continue financial support for the aviation training center, one of the projects paid for by the tax increase.

Democrat Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a state senator, and Republican Richard Ranzau, who was the Reform Party gubernatorial candidate in 2006, are vying for the 4th District seat held by Kelly Parks, who is not seeking re-election. Carol Bevelhymer, a Sedgwick County training coordinator, has launched a write-in campaign for the seat.

The four-year term is a full-time position and pays $83,718 annually.

Sedgwick County commissioners approved a 2.5 mill levy tax increase in 2006 to pay for a jail expansion and to develop the National Center for Aviation Training at Jabara Airport. The county decided not to expand the jail and commissioners have since voted to roll back the mill levy by 2 mills.

Ranzau, 45, said property taxes should be lowered again, to at least pre-2006 levels. Decreasing the size of government and the amount of taxes levied by government are among his priorities.

He questioned whether the county should continue to provide funding for the training center, which he thinks should be self-sufficient.

"I believe a lot of businesses would like government to provide a subsidy to train their work force," Ranzau said. "For years (aviation companies) trained their own workers, and why now do they need Sedgwick County to do it? I believe in the free market and I don't believe in special favors for one business or another."

Faust-Goudeau, 51, said she would support cutting the property tax if the county could find efficiencies elsewhere — perhaps in jail operations. She wouldn't favor large budget cuts to do it.

She said she would support continued funding for the training center. It would defeat the purpose of the center to create it and then not follow through, she said.

"With a well-trained work force, people are able to go to work, and when people are working they add to tax base as opposed to being a liability to the county," Faust-Goudeau said. "We need to look at ways to help people retain their jobs and create an atmosphere for individuals to get employment."

The county has spent $48.5 million on construction, design and airport rental for the training center. Of that, $15.6 million was spent this year.

The center was financed through a 20-year bond issue; the debt service for this year was $3.5 million.

The county also spends money — $2.8 million in 2009 — on programs it started to decrease the jail population in lieu of expansion.

In 2010, one-half mill of property tax generated $2.1 million.

As a state senator, Faust-Goudeau voted for the temporary state sales tax increase earlier this year. She said the two taxes are different and called property taxes harmful to senior citizens and those on fixed incomes.

"I voted to fund education, fund our transportation plan, I voted to prevent teachers losing their jobs, I voted to help them keep those positions (with the sales tax increase)," Faust-Goudeau said. "At the end of the day, we have to pay for the essential services."

Both candidates said they would support hiring and wage freezes until the economy rebounds.

The 4th District runs through north-central Sedgwick County and includes parts of Maize, Valley Center and Wichita. It leans slightly Democratic but is largely split between political parties.

Although Faust-Goudeau likely has more name recognition, Ranzau has jumped out to a solid fundraising lead.

He raised $7,453 through July 22 and $3,350 between July 23 and 28. Faust-Goudeau brought in $4,429 through July 22.

According to campaign finance reports, outgoing commissioner Parks has donated to both campaigns — $99 to Faust-Goudeau and $418 to Ranzau.

'Republicrat'

Faust-Goudeau, the first African-American woman elected to the Kansas Senate, has been a member of the Legislature for eight years.

She is one of only nine Democratic senators and calls herself a "Republicrat." She said she tries to represent all of the people in her district.

In Topeka, she sought legislation allowing grandparents to become foster parents when needed and preventing gas stations from selling drug paraphernalia.

Sen. Anthony Hensley, the Senate minority leader, called Faust-Goudeau "the strongest pro-family legislator in the Legislature" and said she has carved out a career dealing with issues that help families and children.

One might look at the move from the state Senate to the county board as a step backward, but Hensley said it would allow Faust-Goudeau to spend more time in her district, rather than 90 days a year in Topeka.

"For Oletha, being a full-time county commissioner is a natural fit for her because of her community activism," he said.

Some members of the community are banding together to help Faust-Goudeau in one respect.

The Eagle reported Saturday that she had paid $250 in fines but still owes $500 in fines for housing and property violations at a house on East Eighth Street. The house was owned by her mother, who died in 2001, and now is in her name.

Cordell Belcher said he read the story, and "that's when people volunteered to help."

He said volunteers have replaced glass and helped clean up the property and will continue to do "whatever needs to be done."

Two women, he said, have volunteered to pay the $500.

Belcher lives in Faust-Goudeau's district and said she is "very outgoing to her constituents," always ready to listen and help.

No longer in protest

Ranzau has not held political office. He works as a physician assistant in Wichita and served in the U.S. Army Reserves for 21 years, including deployments to Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

Ranzau is putting more stock into his second foray into politics. His 2006 run for governor, he said, was more of a protest run against the major parties than a true campaign.

Now, he thinks that the county can set an example for other units of government by keeping taxes low and cutting spending.

"I'm willing to make decisions, good conservative decisions. I think we need to be willing to challenge the system," Ranzau said.

In particular, the county board could find efficiencies by seeking ideas from Sedgwick County's workers, he said.

Also, the county should analyze every department to find possible duplication in services between Wichita and Sedgwick County.

Maybe capital projects could be delayed, Ranzau said, to keep expenses lower. He doesn't have specific projects in mind yet, but plans to seek out more answers if elected.

"I don't want to throw stuff out before I'm elected, before I have all of the facts," Ranzau said.

Orthopedic surgeon Daniel Prohaska has worked with Ranzau since 2001 and credited him with an ability to connect with people from different backgrounds.

"He is a person with passion and compassion," Prohaska said. "Obviously in the health care field you have to be able to identify with people and communicate with people so that you can help people, and I think he does a very good job of that."

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