As budget season approaches for the city of Wichita, the mayor and City Council members must decide: How should they spend taxpayer money?
The Wichita Beacon asked each council member and the mayor to list their top three budget priorities for this year.
Investment in neighborhoods and their infrastructure, especially in the center of the city, came up again and again. Public safety, like police, fire and animal control, did too.
But some were more specific — like more water fountains downtown or expanding the Westlink Library.
Read on to learn more about your City Council’s budget priorities this year. The city will propose its budget on July 19 and commissioners will vote to adopt it by Aug. 23. The budget takes effect Jan. 1.
The responses are edited only for length or clarity.
Mayor Brandon Whipple
As the economy bounces back, our budget must re-focus on the basics: infrastructure, public safety and community investments that create opportunity. As I’ve done the last two years, I will work to ensure we accomplish this while balancing the budget, holding the line on taxes and ensuring ample opportunity for public input and dialogue.
- Prioritizing infrastructure investment in the core of the city. Shifting funds to increase maintenance on our surface streets and paving dirt roads in urban neighborhoods.
- I have been working with Chief Moore to create a unit of social workers within Wichita Police Department (WPD) to provide 24-hour behavioral health support. I’m pushing to get this unit up and running as quickly as possible.
- During the last budget hearing I made very clear that this budget must provide our fire department with the staffing and resources they need to provide fast services to our residents – public safety must take priority over recreational projects.
District 1, Brandon Johnson
My priorities going into this budget season center on quality of life opportunities within our city that add value to the lived experience of being a Wichitan. I have been hearing quite a bit about needs around animal control field response, illegal dumping, support for parks, neighborhood planning, support for neighborhood parks, and I have been an advocate for second- and third-shift transit since I first ran for office.
I will be working with my colleagues on ways in which we can support items to improve those areas and continue improving the lived experience in our city. While I have continued to support regional efforts to bring more people to Wichita, I know we cannot retain our current talent and gain new talent without making sure the city can provide every income level with a high quality of life in Wichita.
District 2, Becky Tuttle
Our mission to be an exceptionally well-run city should be the guide for how we determine budget priorities, including:
- Keeping Wichita safe by supporting our police and fire departments
- Growing our economy in our target industries of advance manufacturing/materials, aerospace, agriculture, energy, healthcare, IT systems/support and transportation/logistics
- Building and maintaining safe and reliable infrastructure such as water/sewage treatment facilities and streets and bridges
- Providing conditions for living well by maintaining and enhancing our park system, offering low-cost transit and library services and supporting arts/cultural arts
Regarding the city’s use of American Rescue Plan Act funds, I would like to explore funding options for mental health/substance abuse, as these are issues that I hear are important to community members. I would be interested in funds being allocated for implementation of the City of Wichita/Sedgwick County Food System Master Plan, as every member of our community should have access to healthy food.
District 3, Mike Hoheisel
My budget priorities are as follows:
1. Increase public safety. We have had a growing number of complaints in my district about loose animals running wild, and this can be reflected in my desire to add positions with Animal Control, in order to address this proactively. Additionally, we need to continue to staff and fund WFD so we don’t fall behind the curve and find ourselves in a similar mess as our county EMS.
2. Fund a 24-hour mobile mental health response team. We are rethinking the way we, specifically WPD, interact with those going through a mental health crisis. The proposal of adding social workers to WPD for a mental health response team helps address the concerns we’ve been hearing from the public on this issue in a very real way.
3. Fighting neighborhood blight. The third district has been the city’s dumping ground for far too long. We need to do what we can to clean up dump spots, improve the appearance of the neighborhoods, and ensure that every neighborhood is one we can all be proud to live in.
District 4, Jeff Blubaugh
My priorities from the 50,000 foot view (are that) I’m still big in the core responsibilities of the city. Streets, police, fire, public safety and ensuring we don’t raise property taxes.
I do have a little bit of concern with adding additional park space when we have so much park area that we’ve got to make sure that we have adequate resources to maintain them.
We need to make sure we’re investing in our core and making sure we’re investing in opportunities to not only build new in the core but also help to remodel and refurbish some of the older inventory of the city. We have a lot of infill opportunities within the city. We have so much aging infrastructure in the city. We have pipes that are 70 to 80 years old, water lines, sewer lines, street maintenance. … It’s not in the budget right now, but I’d like to see more incentives for people to build within the core.
The only other thing I want to throw out there is police and fire raises. We’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of our first responders.
District 5, Bryan Frye
I’ve approached each budget season with the same three core principles:
1. Maximize return, getting the most bang for taxpayer dollars.
2. Sustainability/long term financial responsibility.
3. Infrastructure that creates pride in the community.
I focus priorities on keeping our neighbors safe, ways to grow the economy, providing dependable infrastructure and creating a better quality of life.
For District 5 specifically, I want to fulfill the promise of a new Patrol West police substation, the expansion of Westlink Library, realizing the next phase of Pracht Wetlands Park and the completion of 135th Street from Central and 13th Street.
District 6, Maggie Ballard
My budget priorities for 2023 reflect similar priorities I outlined while running for City Council. First, we need to get back to basics by increasing our levels of funding for staffing. In order to provide great customer service, we need staff at full strength so this budget should reflect that working for the City is one of the best places to work.
Secondly, access to clean water is so important, especially downtown. I want our budget to include more public water fountains.
As a lifelong Riversider, reversing the destruction of our tree canopy is a big priority. The city needs to make a commitment to invest in planting new trees.
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