Be heard on city, county budgets

As local companies saw their business fall off a cliff and adjusted their work forces immediately, local governments had the luxury of time — and some stimulus dollars — before seeing the downturn clobber their budgets.

The grace period appears more than over, though, with both the city and Sedgwick County signaling that things are way past tight and necessitating tough choices.

The county projects that property taxes and investment income will be down this year by $2.2 million and $3.2 million, respectively. Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan will offer his budget recommendation at today's County Commission meeting, with opportunities for public input at the regular July 21 meeting and a special hearing at 9 a.m. Aug. 10.

In the case of the city of Wichita's proposed $500 million budget for 2011-12, the winners are taxpayers and drivers, who would see no property-tax increase but $600,000 more in residential street repairs. If so, that will extend quite a feat even further — to 17 years without raising the city's mill levy.

City Manager Robert Layton's proposal to save $6.4 million would require 65 job cuts, as well as employee furloughs and departmental consolidations. In the context of the community's thousands of layoffs, that blow seems modest. But it won't to the workers and families affected, of course.

Meanwhile, the Wichita City Council effectively voted Tuesday to cut Wichita Police Department school resource officers from USD 259 middle schools. Regrettably, it did so without much opportunity for the community to fight for the program, which has been good for school safety as well as fighting gangs, drugs and other crime. At least Layton and others clearly regret the move, which means just seven officers will staff district high schools. If the SROs are missed, as they surely will be, the middle schools and community need to advocate their return.

Some Layton proposals raise questions, such as letting the YMCA and other providers handle some city recreation programs. The public can weigh in on this and other budget issues at the City Council meetings at 9 a.m. July 20 and Aug. 3 and 10.

If a government's spending reflects its priorities, so does where it chooses to cut. In the days until the city and county adopt their budgets next month, citizens need to make their concerns and preferences known.