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Residents Stress Importance Of 'Quality Of Life' Programs In Wichita Budget

Old Cowtown Museum Facebook
Wichita's Old Cowtown Museum is one area of the city's budget that faces some cost-cutting changes in coming years.

Residents on Tuesday urged City Council members to protect Wichita’s “quality of life” in next year’s budget.

Council members listened to more than an hour of public comments over the proposed 2019 budget — most of it centered on making sure the city’s cultural programming is funded in the future.

Archie Macias, president of the Historic Wichita Cowtown board, says he wants to see a larger budget for cultural programs overall.

“It really boils down to what is the city’s commitment to the culture of life of Wichita, which brings so many people wanting to come here and stay here," he said. "But that’s what we need to do ... get them to stay here, and we think Cowtown is one of those that can add to that positive culture of life.”

The city plans to shift operations of Cowtown, including six staff positions, over to the board in 2020, something Macias has expressed concerns over.

It’s one of the cost-cutting adjustments outlined in the budget.

An earlier version of the budget would have closed the Linwood and Evergreen branch libraries by 2020, and brought in a private partner to help run CityArts. Those programs have been restored, but the city says changes are still needed to make sure they’re sustainable in the long-term.

Resident Shawna Miller thanked council members listening to what she said were hundreds of petition-signers who wanted to keep the libraries open.

“Wichita wants libraries,” she said. “This seems like an opportunity to get out of complacency. We expect that our libraries are going to be there and when the idea was that they might not be anymore, I think that that shook a few of us up out of our complacency to think, ‘What do we need to do that’s going to be different, what do we need to do that’s going to be innovative and exciting for our libraries?’”

The city will likely take $1 million from street maintenance to fund the two branch libraries and its downtown art gallery, at least for the coming year. The $600 million proposed budget also adds $3.2 million to fund 32 new positions in the Wichita Police Department as part of the city’s staffing plan.

Vice Mayor Bryan Frye says the top funding priorities need to remain police and fire services.

“I think our infrastructure as far as our streets need to be right after that,” he said. “You know, we do a certain quality of life to our constituents and I want to ensure that those are managed in a way that we would manage our own businesses. There’s nothing wrong with running lean operations.”

Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter @NadyaFaulx. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.