Daily Archives: Oct. 4, 2011

County CFO: “Some of our employees have sticky fingers”

Sedgwick County chief financial officer Chris Chronis today raised some eyebrows when he said “Some of our employees have sticky fingers” during a discussion about whether the county should begin charging customers a fee to pay taxes and other bills by credit card.

Chronis is against passing on the fee for using plastic to customers, saying credit- and debit-card transactions are preferable to payments by check and cash.

“Employees sometimes steal cash, constituents sometimes steal from the county by paying us with bad checks,” he said in an e-mail to commissioners and other county leaders. “Neither opportunity exists with credit card payments.”

He repeated that message today during a meeting with commissioners and staff.

Treasurer Linda Kizzire took exception to Chronis’ comments and said she knows of no problems in her office with staff stealing money.

“I’ve got excellent cash control policies and procedures in place, and if there was a problem, I would deal with it very swiftly and promptly,” Kizzire said after the meeting. “None of my staff are sticky- fingered thieves.”

County Manager William Buchanan agreed.

“We do not, have not had a problem with theft,” he told The Eagle. “Employees in the treasurer’s office or elsewhere that handle cash have not, in my 20 years here, taken things that did not belong to them.”

Asked later about his comment, Chronis said theft was not a problem at the county.

” My point was not that county employees are less trustworthy than other people, but rather than human nature being as it is, in any large group that’s given easy access to a lot of cash, someone may succumb to temptation.  The more payments we receive via credit card, the less the temptation,” he said.

Bridge design: Council likes windmill, birds and clouds

The City Council today unanimously approved the artwork to beautify the planned bridge over the Big Ditch at 13th Street.

The artwork will feature a stylized windmill, along with birds flying among clouds.

Dominant colors will be shades of green and brown to reflect the colors of the changing Kansas seasons, said James Armour, the city engineer.

The windmill theme was chosen because of the proximity of the bridge to Windmill Road and because windmills are an image evocative of the plains, Armour said.

The cost of the artwork will be absorbed into the total budget of the $55 million bridge project, he said.

City Manager Robert Layton said it is unknown how much the artwork is adding to the cost of the bridge.

The bridge is being built to help alleviate traffic problems for residents of the populous northwest portion of the city. It will connect to the I-235 freeway and create more options for westside/downtown commuters.

Only one resident addressed the council during a public hearing on the artwork.

Larry Herron said he appreciated that the planned artwork features pictures only, unlike the freeway overpass at Kellogg and Hillside, which has a sundial and a poem incorporated into its design.

Herron said he could only pick up the first word of the poem as he drives down Kellogg and he much prefers the simpler approach being taken for the 13th Street bridge.

“That’s just right for me,” he said. “I am very much enthused by the way it looks.”

Council member Jeff Longwell, who represents the west side, remarked “we’re a very conservative area, but at the same time, we want something that’s special.”

He said the bridge design represents “the best of both worlds.”

Handcuffed City Council approves subsidy shift to Wal-Mart project

Developers who received $2.5 million in city subsidies to renovate a northeast Wichita shopping center have diverted the money to develop a Wal-Mart neighborhood grocery store at the site.

And on Tuesday, the City Council retroactively changed the development plan to reflect a reality they can’t change.

The Wal-Mart project is already underway at the site of the former KenMar shopping center at the northeast corner of 13th and Oliver. One of the main commercial buildings at the site has been mostly torn down.

The council also approved using city tax funds to back the development plan instead of borrowing the money through bonding, because the changed plan will not generate enough new property tax to pay back the city’s investment. Under the new plan, the developers have agreed to pay the city about $10,000 a year to cover the shortfall. If the city had gone forward with bonding the project at a higher interest rate, the estimated shortfall would have been about $42,000 a year.

The project is being managed by the Rev. Dr. Kevass Harding, pastor of DellRose United Methodist Church and a former member of the Wichita School Board. He said he embarked on the project because the shopping center, situated behind his church, has been a haven for drug dealing and prostitution.

His company, H.H. Holding LLC, paid about $2.2 million — $827,000 of which was city funds — for the property.

H.H. sold roughly half of the land to Wal Mart for about $1.9 million.

H.H. retains the rest of the site and plans to redevelop it in a style consistent with Wal-Mart’s project, documents show.

Council member Michael O’Donnell questioned why the city hadn’t gotten a share of the profit from the sale of land for the Wal-Mart since it had fronted the developers a significant share of the purchase price. Read More »