Sedgwick County Commissioners Hear From Public On 2016 Budget
The Sedgwick County Commission held a public hearing Wednesday to discuss potential funding cuts to many county-backed organizations.
More than 40 people stood before the Sedgwick County Commission to voice their opinions over a recommended budget that features millions of dollars in funding cuts. The vast majority asked the commission to restore all funding, and some said the cuts are fiscally responsible.
Here are some of those comments…
Mark Koch, board member of KANSEL:
“I’m here today to ask you for continued funding for the KANSEL juvenile crime prevention grant that we have received for 17 years. This money, $84,500, provides GED classes for Sedgwick County at-risk youth, including some who are on probation or in county residential facilities. The overall rate of recidivism is 17 percent in Sedgwick County. The recidivism rate for KANSEL students is only 2 percent. This program works. If KANSEL loses funding from the county, this adult education program serving Sedgwick County’s at-risk youth will be in jeopardy.”
Martha Linsner, serves on board of Arts Council:
"If you find a growing community in this country, you’ll find that it has a vibrant arts community. The Arts Council is making a difference in the quality of life in Sedgwick County and we could not do this without (public) funding. Please listen to the people that you serve. Remain focused. Continue to make everyone in Sedgwick County happier and make this a vibrant, wonderful place to live.”
Shirley Koehn, former small business owner:
"My husband and I had a business for over 30 years, so we know a little bit about budgets. And I know how hard it is. I don’t envy your job at all. The taxpayers cannot continue to keep giving more and more money. So, it has come to the point where we do need to make some cuts. The role of government is public safety. It’s also to build and maintain public roads and bridges. Are these areas being funded adequately? If they’re not, then we can’t afford 'wants,' such as the additions to the zoo or the additions to Botanica. I love all those places, but I’m not sure they need to be adding expenses at this point. I think we can cut some expenses."
Suzanne Scott, director of global human resources for Spirit AeroSystems
“Part of my responsibility includes employment, which is hiring. That includes keeping a robust pipeline of talented, skilled people for our workforce, so that we can hire them. We very much, along with the other local aviation companies, rely on Wichita Area Technical College for this skilled workforce. They’re a critical component to helping us fill our talent pipelines. As we are struggling to fill our job openings with qualified workers, we can’t afford to have the county working against us.”
Dr. George Lucas, local orthopedic surgeon
I’ve been a physician for over 50 years, and one of my proudest accomplishments has been to participate in Project Access. The success of Project Access, which expedites healthcare for many of our less fortunate citizens, is undeniable. It must continue. There’s no question that many people in Sedgwick County are in need of services that Project Access can provide. And to significantly defund that program is unconscionable. I also want recognize that the arts deserve support. I think I can sum this up with a quote from Douglas Copeland: ‘To have a healthy culture, you have to have stable healthcare financing, stable arts financing and stable sports financing. And if you don’t have that, your culture becomes a parking lot.’ So please, don’t let the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County become a parking lot.”
After the public hearing came to an end, Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell mentioned that spending for the 2016 recommended budget has been capped, but the commissioners will work to try and shift funding around to avoid cuts in some areas.
"Within the proposed budget, we can move money from one category to another. I have no doubt there will be adjustments made," Howell said. "In fact, we might find that there’s other revenues that might come in that we were not expecting. We might find ways to soften the blow."
Commissioner Dave Unruh mentioned a way to restore funding to all affected organizations. It would involve borrowing money through bonds to help pay for many of the scheduled road repairs. Commissioner Howell says the county has been borrowing money for road repair year after year. He says the interest created by these bonds is harmful.
"Every time we make that decision it’s throwing $1.7 million dollars away," Howell said. "I think we can’t afford to be irresponsible with people’s money."
The final public hearing for the county’s recommended budget will be held on August 6 at 6 p.m.
A budget will be approved on August 12.
Read reporter Sean Sandefur's Twitter recap of the public hearing: