Eagle editorial: Help plan the future

If you are among the 25,000 registered voters to receive a mailing this week with questions about how to improve the long-term well-being of Wichita and Sedgwick County, please take the trouble to complete and return the survey right away. The community will be better for it – not just for you but for generations.

Conducted by Wichita State University, the survey is one part of the joint city-county initiative called “CommunityInvestmentsPlan … a Framework for the Future.” There will be follow-up community meetings and other ways to be involved (www.communityinvestmentsplan.org).

Asking citizens what they think is standard practice for local governments. However, leaders at both the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County seem eager to take what they learn from the survey as guidance not only in crafting a new city-county comprehensive plan for 2015-35 but also for setting priorities and making spending decisions in the shorter term.

The questions explore how citizens balance community interests with their own, and address everything from street maintenance to downtown revitalization to bus and air service to flooding and bike paths, before homing in on citizens’ willingness to see taxes or fees increased to pay for improvements. As it is, the city and county have more than $7 billion in combined infrastructure and assets to manage and protect. Highlighting one looming need in Tuesday’s State of the City address, Mayor Carl Brewer noted that over the next 30 years the majority of Wichita’s water, sewer and storm drainage systems will require significant maintenance or replacement, with the latter move estimated to cost $2.1 billion.

The survey already has generated some controversy for its $65,000 cost, questions and methodology. Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn criticized the questions for “ignoring the private marketplace” and promoting government spending. If his concerns have merit, they can be factored into the planning and decision making; a 23-member steering committee is watching the process. In any case, it’s hard to see local leaders’ keen interest in citizens’ views as negative.

This is an opportunity for local governments to demonstrate that they welcome and heed public input – something the city needs to do better, judging from past surveys.

It’s time for residents of Wichita and Sedgwick County to do their part, by filling out their surveys and otherwise participating in the exchange of information.

The stakes are high, so stakeholders need to be heard.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman