County budget will do damage

The Sedgwick County Commission majority asked for whatever blowback it is now getting.
The Sedgwick County Commission majority asked for whatever blowback it is now getting.

The Sedgwick County Commission certainly grabbed the public’s attention with a 2016 budget proposal that reduces taxes a little but cuts some services a lot, especially affecting health, economic development and quality of life.

The claims about budget problems seem like an excuse to impose ideological views on county operations.

Yet it was the opposition that Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau accused of being “ideological,” predicting “there will be a lot of ranting and raving.”

The plan’s high-profile targets include the Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place, the Arts Council and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, but the effects will be much deeper and broader.

If budgets reflect priorities, some of the ones in this plan seem contradictory and even batty.

The same commissioners who’ve blasted the Affordable Care Act now would harm local charities’ efforts to help the sick and uninsured and otherwise at risk.

After decrying federal grants for years, and saying any program worth doing should be worth paying for with county dollars, the majority commissioners now would withdraw county dollars in favor of letting the feds and state pay for some things.

The proposal newly assumes that borrowing money to pay for roads and bridges is evil, and was accompanied by the suggestion Monday that no one would take on debt to operate a home or business.

The plan slashes support for some groups while sparing others – inexplicable, but at least a welcome endorsement of the community value of organizations including the Sedgwick County Extension Council, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum and the Kansas African American Museum.

And it newly acts as if Sedgwick County somehow does not include the city of Wichita’s 386,000 residents and 159 square miles, pulling back from shared commitments on planning, economic development, corrections and more.

Business leaders, tourism promoters, city officials, health professionals, arts supporters and many others are upset, and no wonder.

Will the majority of commissioners heed the criticism? Even if they wanted to, the budget cap vote on Wednesday – just two days after the proposal’s unveiling – left them little flexibility to make changes.

“I would argue this county is at this time moving to the center. We’re moving the county back towards the center, back to core American values,” Ranzau said at Wednesday’s meeting, while pushing back at an Eagle article about the growing divide between the County Commission and the Wichita City Council. “This country, state, county over time has moved so far to the left we don’t recognize core American values. I’m talking about things like fiscal responsibility, individual freedom, property rights, individual responsibility, limited government.”

Ranzau and fellow Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Jim Howell asked for whatever blowback they are now getting, by crafting a budget that shreds the county’s agreements with several groups and partnerships with other governments, and presumes that the county’s fiscal management has been irresponsible until now.

They are the owners of this needless experiment in county governance, which will do damage if it’s passed as presented.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman