Eagle editorial: Weigh in on budgets

Improvement in the local economy is discernible but hardly robust, and the huge fiscal ripples from the Statehouse and Washington, D.C., are reaching every local government in Kansas. So the city of Wichita, Sedgwick County and the Wichita school district must exercise caution in their new budgets, which are up for debate and passage over the next month. It’s time for taxpayers and other stakeholders to pay attention and weigh in.

• City Manager Robert Layton will present his 2014 budget proposal to the Wichita City Council during the meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The $543 million plan would increase spending by 2 percent but avoid a property-tax increase, in part by cutting 20 jobs. It includes $1 million more for street improvements. Council members will need to explore how losing six firefighter positions won’t erode public safety. (Layton says the change, which could save $540,000, should not worsen response times.) They also should scrutinize whether the budget does enough for parks, libraries and the arts. Citizens can ask questions and have input during a social media town hall meeting from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, and make comments at a hearing Aug. 6 and before the council votes Aug. 13. For more information, go to wichita.gov.

• Last week the Sedgwick County Commission received County Manager William Buchanan’s $413 million recommended budget, which avoids a forecast deficit. An increase of 0.5 percent over the current year’s budget, the 2014 proposal would devote $471,000 to a new mental-health pod at the Sedgwick County Jail and allow for some raises for county employees, while restoring cuts made to the Sedgwick County Zoo and Exploration Place and boosting county support to the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County. It also devotes $750,000 from the state to keep the Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch open until at least next July. The commission will hold public hearings on the budget at its meetings at 9 a.m. Wednesday and July 31, before voting to adopt it Aug. 7. There’s also an online forum. For more information, go to sedgwickcounty.org.

• The USD 259 school board will hear a budget presentation at next Monday’s meeting, with a formal public hearing before the board vote on Aug. 12. At a board briefing last month, chief financial officer Jim Freeman said he anticipated 2013-14 budget increases of about $2.5 million, driven in part by higher costs for electricity and insurance and an enrollment increase of 300 students. The United Teachers of Wichita and the district have tentatively agreed to a contract representing a 2.4 percent increase in value for teachers. For more information on the budget in the coming days, go to usd259.com.

Informed by the public, the elected members of the City Council, County Commission and school board must ensure that revenues not only meet obligations but reflect the community’s priorities.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman