WICHITA, Kan - The Wichita city council voted Tuesday to adopt a final budget of around $601 million for city operations next year. It keeps the city's property tax rate at the same level for the 25th straight year.
Mayor Jeff Longwell said because of input from the community, the city will continue to fund library branches, arts programs and the L.W. Clapp Golf Course, but there will be challenges ahead. He said "do we have long-term sustainable funding in place? No, we're going to have to address that."
Several volunteers from the Old Cowtown Museum went to city hall in their historical costumes and spoke to the council about concerns over the future of the museum. They urged the council not to close the museum, but Mayor Longwell emphasized that Cowtown is fully funded for 2019. He said there will be discussions about continuing operations of the museum for 2020 and beyond, and there will be opportunities for public input. City manager Robert Layton told the council that staff will be looking for a different way of funding and management for the museum, in a manner similar to the operations of the Wichita Art Museum.
The city budget includes $3.2 million for 32 new positions in the police department, under the first phase of a staffing program. Layton said many of the positions would be filled before the end of this year.
The budget also includes the reduction of ten firefighter positions as the city looks for a more efficient way to operate the fire department. A pilot project will adjust staffing for better response to lower priority EMS calls. A large truck at two stations will be replaced with a squad truck, which uses less staff. Local firefighters union president Matt Schulte raised concerns about the loss of manpower, and council member Brandon Johnson said that will also be a concern for him next year. Mayor Longwell said after a pilot staffing program is completed, the city will decide if it can be continued.
The council voted 6-1 to adopt the budget, with council member Jeff Blubaugh voting no.