Five months after the City Council first discussed ways to make it cheaper for people to get dirt streets paved, the conversation continued this week. It wasn’t much more than an echo. They even saw the same PowerPoint — complete with thrilling photos of empty gravel roads and bar graphs. As one long-time City Hall official put it in a different context this week: “Things in City Hall have two speeds: 0 MPH and 1,000 MPH.”
Council member Jim Skelton has anxiously advocated for a solution to get more of the city’s 96 miles of dirt roads paved, including dozens in his district in southeast Wichita. It’s clear from listening to him that he feels this is one of those 0 MPH issues. Skelton got little support for his ideas to use more bar ditches to reduce costs drainage costs in areas that aren’t flood-prone and extending the time people have to pay off the special assessments (a state legislature issue). But, when he suggested the city could let more people low incomes defer paying special assessments by increasing the city’s poverty guidelines, he got some support. As it is, a family of four must make less than $30,600 a year to qualify for deferral (it’s an annual process). That’s considered “very low income.” City finance officials said the city could use the “low income” level instead, allowing a family of four that makes less than $48,950 to forgo payments until they move or exceed the set income level.
City Manager George Kolb said the issue will get more serious consideration when the Council prepares its capital budget in June. Council members already say they expect things to be tight. It won’t help if the Council approves a three-year contract with the police union next week that pushes them $6.5 million beyond what they had budgeted for (See story). And things could get even tighter with Sedgwick County Commissioners’ decision to charge the city for the suspects it houses in the county jail (See story) and revenue lost from statewide business property tax exemptions. (See a PDF about petitioning for paving here.)