A much-discussed topic in negotiations for the 2022 city budget was the 2022-2031 capital improvement program, which set aside $20.3 million to replace six of Wichita’s 22 fire stations. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)
A much-discussed topic in negotiations for the 2022 city budget was the 2022-2031 capital improvement program, which set aside $20.3 million to replace six of Wichita’s 22 fire stations. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

A free email newsletter breaking down the issues that affect Wichitans the most.

Delivered every Tuesday and Thursday morning

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a change in schedule to the budget process. The proposed budget will now be presented to the City Council on July 12 instead of July 19.

Wichita’s annual budget may struggle to grab your attention. 

But behind jargon that might take your breath away — mill levy, debt service, general fund — is a document that sets the stage for life in the city of Wichita. 

The city’s budget — which reached $670 million in 2022 — determines how much money goes to the police department ($102.5 million). It lays out how much is available for the city’s streetlights ($5.1 million). How much the city’s libraries have to operate ($9.6 million). 

Most of this money is yours — money Wichita residents paid in property taxes, sales taxes or motor vehicle taxes. 

So it’s important to know the process for how spending decisions are made  — and how you can get involved. While the city passes its annual budget in August, the budget process started in January.      

Here are five steps the city takes to develop the budget. 

Terms to know

City Council:
Wichita residents have six City Council members and a mayor who represent them as local elected officials. Here’s how to contact them.  

City Manager’s Office:
The city manager, Robert Layton, is responsible for implementing the policy priorities of the City Council. The city manager submits the annual budget to the council. He is not an elected official.

Collect and review data (January and February)

What it means
The city provides services to the residents of Wichita, and they want to make sure those services are high quality. For example, how long does it take someone to answer the phone at the city’s call center?

In preparation for the budget, the city collects data such as how long it takes to answer calls and other important metrics to see how well they’re serving their residents and which areas are not meeting standards.  

Example
In the 2022 budget, the city of Wichita decided to fund the replacement of six fire stations in the capital improvement plan. The new stations would better handle modern fire equipment to decrease  the time it takes to respond to a fire.

This investment would ensure that the Wichita Fire Department can continue to meet the nationwide benchmark for response times, which say that over 90% of fire calls should be served in eight minutes or less. 

Can you get involved?
Not really. City staff typically complete this step. 

Budget development with staff (March and April)

What it means
The next step is for the city’s budget office and the city manager to meet with the heads of city departments, including the Park and Recreation Department and the Fire Department. These meetings are held privately. 

In these meetings, departments present their budget needs and program options for the upcoming year.

Example
The Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department (MABCD) has a set budget to demolish dangerous and dilapidated houses in Wichita — around $160,000, according to director Chris Labrum. The department has already spent all of those dollars for 2022, he said. 

In the MABCD’s budget hearing with the city manager this year, Labrum said they discussed allocating more dollars for demolitions. 

The city manager “gave us another $100,000,” Labrum said.   

Can you get involved?
Not really. This step takes place in private meetings. 

Budget workshops with City Council (April and May)

What it means
The budget office and the city manager present an overview of the city’s budget to the mayor and six City Council members. This includes updates on tax revenue the city collects and changes in city expenditures.   

At these meetings, city staff members typically discuss budget decisions that City Council members will have to make in the upcoming year.   

Example
Budget workshops in 2021 focused on how the City Council planned to spend $72.4 million in federal COVID relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The city spent $5 million in ARPA funds to create its first-ever affordable housing fund. 

The city’s first budget workshop this April discussed paving a portion of the 84 miles of unpaved roads, investing in programs for mental health and substance abuse and investing in improved transit systems.  

Important dates 

  •  April 11: City Council budget retreat
  •  May 25: City Council budget retreat

Can you get involved?
Yes! You can watch the April 11 and May 25 budget retreats online, or attend the May meeting in person. 

Budget development with residents (June)

What it means
The city also seeks feedback from Wichita residents about what they want to see from city budgets. Typically, this means allowing residents to give feedback on social media or in meetings. 

Example
The city’s social media town hall in 2021 focused on how the city should spend its $72.4 million in federal COVID relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Residents overwhelmingly picked affordable housing as the first priority for the dollars.

Important dates

Can you get involved?
Yes! You can attend the advisory board meeting for your City Council district or participate in the social media town hall. Find which City Council district you’re in here.

Budget adoption by City Council (July and August 2022)

What it means
After gathering feedback from city staff, residents and City Council members, the city manager will present a proposed budget this summer. 

Residents have about a month to give feedback on the proposed budget at public meetings. The city will hold four public hearings on the budget, with one in the evening. 

In late August, the City Council will adopt the budget and capital improvement plan for the following fiscal year, which starts Jan. 1.

Example
In the summer of 2020, many Wichita residents spoke at budget hearings to protest and to  support a proposed increase in the Wichita Police Department’s budget. This increase was ultimately adopted in the final budget.

Important dates

  • July 12, 9 a.m.: City manager presents proposed budget
  • Aug. 4, 7 p.m.: budget hearing
  • Aug. 16, 9 a.m.: budget hearing
  • Aug. 23, 9 a.m.: budget adopted

Can you get involved?
You can attend the public hearings and contact your City Council member. Learn how to get in touch with them here. Learn how to participate in Wichita city government meetings here

Recent Posts

Hack covers local government for The Wichita Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @CeliaHack.