Letters to the Editor

Karl Peterjohn: Keeping promise on taxes

Making sausage is not a pretty sight; neither is making laws. At Wednesday’s Sedgwick County Commission meeting, we were making government budget sausage.

There won’t be a property tax increase with the 2016 Sedgwick County budget. Actually, the county has not voted to raise the mill levy since 2006. However, the county’s mill levy has crept up since 2010, when it had been reduced half a mill to 29.359 mills.

None of the county commissioners has voted to raise the mill levy, but it has still gone up. That is due to a flawed state law that prevents commissioners from actually setting the mill levy. Commissioners approve a budget that sets a dollar amount of spending. The budget vote is followed by an administrative action that occurs in November in which that budget is measured against the tax base and a mill levy that funds it is then applied. That actually sets local government property tax rates. So the commission is, at best, providing only an estimate or goal for the next budget.

Most of the time, the mill levy will rise though this administrative process. For Sedgwick County, the mill levy had risen fractionally to 29.478 mills in 2015.

I made a promise to oppose tax increases as a candidate. In 2012 I ran for re-election on this same platform. I stand on that promise.

My long-term intent is to get Sedgwick County out of the property tax dependence and move to a more stable and growing revenue source. Until that happy day occurs, I and the rest of the commission must live with current state statutes on county government budgets and mill levies.

The 2016 budget took five hours to finalize last week. The budget was modified, but areas in which spending was projected to grow as much as 7 percent were reduced. We cannot increase spending when we have a weak economy. The property tax base in Sedgwick County grew only 1.5 percent last year.

The 2016 budget is $412 million, including the fire district spending of $18 million. The commission restored $655,000 in spending in a number of areas from the proposed budget. This included $150,000 for the staff for the new elephant exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo. Funding was also increased from the proposed budget for health care for folks falling through the Obamacare/Medicaid cracks. There are additional funds for economic development, Exploration Place, the election commissioner’s required staff, and the Wichita Area Technical College.

A number of other proposals to expand county spending beyond this amount were voted upon and rejected by the County Commission. An effort to restore the mill levy to the higher 29.478 mills failed. The video of this meeting is online and being rebroadcast on cable.


Sedgwick County commisioner