With a week left before the City Council is scheduled to adopt next year’s budget, some Wichita residents are still urging city leaders to make significant changes to funding for police and animal control services.
Community members spoke for about two hours on Tuesday during the last public hearing for the 2021 proposed budget. The council will vote next week whether to adopt the $630 million budget and 10-year Capital Improvement Program.
A major focus remains on how much the city is spending on its police department. Several residents called for some of the department’s more than $99 million budget — up from almost $94 million last year — to instead be spent on social services.
Wanda Cole, a member of the city’s Racial Profiling Advisory Board, said the city should be supporting residents who have lost their jobs and can’t pay rent because of the pandemic.
"The Wichita PD has enough guns. They have enough tasers," she said. "You have enough cars. You have enough training. You have enough to what you need to work with to deal with our citizens.
"I’m just asking this board to help our citizens through this time of need."
Project Justice ICT has repeatedly called for the city to defund the police since the group formed this spring. Organizer Gabrielle Griffie, who was arrested and jailed on misdemeanor charges this weekend following demonstrations last week, asked that the city pull funding from police and pour the resources into "our communities which need them."
"I am urging you all not to approve this budget," she told the council, "to reassess the situation, come up with alternatives and fund non-policing solutions, and to defund the police and defend our communities."
The city has not indicated it will adjust the police department’s budget before approving the full budget plan next week.
Also during the public hearing, several animal rescue advocates said the city’s plan to cut funding to its animal shelter could have dangerous consequences.
The city wants to limit intake at the shelter to strays brought in by animal control – meaning residents wouldn’t be able to drop off strays or surrender unwanted pets.
Christy Fischer with the Wichita Animal Action League says the city needs to consider public safety.
"If the shelter no longer has the ability to take in strays brought by the general public, there will undoubtedly be a huge increase of dogs running loose in the city streets."
Last more than 10,000 stray animals were brought to the animal shelter, either by residents or animal control, and about 6,000 of those were transferred to the Kansas Humane Society for adoption, said KHS executive director Mark Eby.
"There is no other space for these strays to be taken," he said, "and placing the burden on KHS and others simply isn’t possible."
The Humane Society is suggesting increasing animal registration fees and raising fines for illegal breeding as some ways the city could shore up its animal control budget.