Category Archives: City Hall

Wichita’s city manager search committee meets Wednesday

About three months after they thought they were done, Wichita’s City Manager Search Committee Wednesday will be back in board room at 1 p.m. Robert Slavin, president of the city’s chosen headhunting firm, Slavin Management Consultants, will meet with the 17-member committee, Mayor Carl Brewer said today. Brewer said he wasn’t sure whether Slavin will present any candidates yet. Committee Chairwoman Misty Bruckner said she doesn’t expect to hear about any candidates. Instead, she said, the meeting on the 10th floor of City Hall will include a short talk with Brewer, an outline of the committee’s time line and some more details on how the process will work. The meeting is open to the public, but some of the issues will be discussed in a closed-door session, Bruckner said. Read More »

Martens out, Bruckner in as chair of city manager search team

Round two of the city manager search is underway, and this time it will have a different leader. It’s Misty Bruckner, coordinator of community outreach at Wichita State University’s Center for Urban Studies. She replaces the previous chair of the search committee, Steve Martens, who is president of Grubb & Ellis| Martens Commercial Group, LLC. Martens said he told Mayor Carl Brewer he wouldn’t be available to lead the search committee this time. But he praised the committee members and said he believes the city is using the right process to find a new manager. Read More »

Council to increase funding for paratransit

Local agencies that provide rides to people with disabilities may get a little extra money next year. But it might not be enough to offset their rising costs or cover their estimated losses after years in which the city didn’t fully reimburse them.

The city’s proposed budget offered $360,000 more to several local agencies that provide transportation to people with disabilities. Now, Vice Mayor Sue Schlapp says she’d like to increase that by $400,000, getting the providers closer to breaking even on their expenses. Council members who heard the proposal earlier this week appeared to agree, and they plan to include it in the 2009-2010 budget, which the council will vote to adopt Tuesday. Read More »

Not so fast: Old Town TIF district stays open

Former interim city manager Ed Flentje proposed spending another $1.6 million on the Old Town tax increment finance district and then end it two years earlier than expected. Now city council member Sharon Fearey says the district should remain open for a little longer — long enough to fund $750,000 worth of resurfaced public parking lots and security projects. Her council counterparts seem to agree and plan to include those projects in their 2009-2010 budget Tuesday. (Here’s the list of projects… old-town-tif-2008-2012.)

The Old Town TIF was created in 1991, and a total of $4.3 million in bonds was issued to pay for the Old Town parking garage and sidewalk and street improvements, according to the city budget. Now it produces more money than it needs, and Old Town Association members and the city keep coming up with new projects to spend the money on rather than putting the property tax dollars, which have increased 423 percent since 1993, back on the general tax rolls to fund citywide projects.

The TIF district was to die naturally in 2013. But Flentje told the council that closing the TIF in 2011 would make about $250,000 a year for the city, Sedgwick County and the Wichita School District, all of which split property tax dollars. Under Fearey’s proposal, it would close whenever the projects are funded, which she and finance officials estimate would be in 2012.

City Hall departments told to cut gas use by 10-15 percent

With high gas prices, many of us are trying to cut back. In City Hall, it has nearly become a mandate. Public Works Director Chris Carrier last week sent out a memo to all city department heads asking them come up with plans to cut their fuel usage by 10 to 15 percent. He said he didn’t specify how they should do that because each department is different. For example, he said, the need to leave a vehicle idling is different for police than for public works.

The catch: the city can’t track gas usage very well. They know how much they buy. Employees file mileage reports. But they can’t see day-to-day, week-to-week usage by each department and employee. So Carrier is asking the city council this week to fund a $1.4 million fuel system that would track gas usage, perform diagnostic tests at the city pumps and help prevent fuel thieves by coding pumps so that they’ll only give gas to authorized vehicles. Council members have grumbled about the cost but appear poised to approve the system Tuesday.

Wichita City Council agenda: water bill increase, ’09 budget and methane

City CouncilHere’s what’s up next Tuesday (7/22) when the city council meets at 9:30 a.m.: Read More »

Municipal wireless largely fails nationwide – would it have here?

 

wireless-antenna.jpg Just over a week ago, the City Council voted to use grant money that would have helped fund citywide wireless Internet on a “point-to-point” system that can only be used by city employees. That effectively kills one of Mayor Carl Brewer’s campaign initiatives — at least for now. And it comes nearly a year after council members declined to accept blueprints offered by Azulstar and several other companies involved in spreading Internet access across entire cities. Now, a new article in The New York Times says that many cities that embarked on widespread wireless Internet have found themselves backing out or frustrated.

“Prices for Internet service on the broader market also began dropping to a level that, while above what many poor people could afford, was below what municipal Wi-Fi providers were offering, so the companies had to lower their rates even further, making investment in infrastructure even more risky.” — Terry Phillis, Philadelphia’s chief information officer, said in The New York Times article.

Following that trend are Azulstar’s problems in Rio Rancho, New Mexico that gave cold feet to Wichita’s council members who loved the idea of mostly-free web access. The company also had problems in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Azulstar was the company Wichita’s tech department recommended, and Azulstar provided piles of research that showed how such a system could work here. But even the city’s tech gurus approached cautiously, based on interviews that happened before the council voted.

Municipal wireless offers one of the most promoted ways to bridge the so-called digital divide that leaves some of us connected to nearly endless information and others left to find information by more traditional means. Libraries seem to be the answer for many people who lack a connection now. But what’s ahead? Did Wichita save some troubles — or miss an opportunity?

Ozone, President Bush and what the city has done

Exhaust pipe, a contributor of ozoneThe Eagle reported today that Wichita will probably be teetering on the edge of not complying with the stricter new ground-level ozone rules the Environmental Protection Agency approved this week. This morning, The Washington Post is reporting that those new ozone levels would have been lower if President Bush had not intervened and pressed for higher limits.

The Post reports:

“The dispute involved one of two distinct parts of the EPA’s ozone restrictions: the “public welfare” standard, which is designed to protect against long-term harm from high ozone levels. The other part is known as the “public health” standard, which sets a legal limit on how high ozone levels can be at any one time. The two standards were set at the same level Wednesday, but until Bush asked for a change, the EPA had planned to set the “public welfare” standard at a lower level.”

That is being sharply criticized by environmental groups, and it is clear that many scientists said that lower ozone thresholds are necessary to protect not just humans, but wildlife. But it also may be viewed by some as good news for cities like Wichita that will probably be on the cusp of non-compliance when the EPA labels cities for attainment and non-attainment in 2010. Given how close Sedgwick County is to being above the new limits today, even lower limits would greatly increase the area’s chances of losing highway funding and other restrictions.

Another thing worth examining is what the city of Wichita has done. In interviews yesterday, Environmental Services Director Kay Johnson said the city has known for years that ozone levels were flirting with regulatory action. And, she said, the city has continued to ramp up its public education campaigns as well as examine how things are done in City Hall, home to hundreds of taxpayer-funded vehicles and other ozone-contributing equipment.

Among the things Johnson said the city has progressed on are:

  • Recent presentations to the Regional Economic Area Partnership about the risks the area faces.
  • Broadcast presentations about ozone and associated risks on the city’s cable Channel 7.
  • Upgraded most of the city’s bus fleet with more efficient buses. (The Eagle notes, however that the price of riding those buses recently went up.)
  • Funding of the Intelligent Transportation System, which is a network of cameras and billboards that, in several years, will line most of Kellogg and I-135 in the central Wichita area. The idea is to divert traffic around accidents and construction that would otherwise leave them idling in the road.
  • Completed most of the elevated railroad corridor, which also reduces the number of cars eating gas while trains pass.

The city put out a press release late last night. See that here.

Filling vacancies with the flip of a coin

BallotFilling vacancies on the Wichita City Council may soon be slightly less tedious. And if the council has stalemate votes like it did last year, a simple flip of a coin will break the tie. That’s according to a new proposal that the council plans to vote on March 15. Under the plan, council members would cast five rounds of votes in the first meeting in which they’re voting on candidates to fill a vacancy. If they deadlock, they cast five more ballots at the next regular meeting. Still stuck? They cast another five at the next meeting. Still can’t agree after 15 ballots? The mayor flips a coin and the winner gets the position.

Under an earlier proposal, Council members had suggested that the mayor should break the tie. But, given Wichita’s form of government, which doesn’t give the mayor any significant authority that council members don’t have, council members decided not to give the mayor any extra power. Previously, the city attorney had to break a tie. (During the conversation, Council member Sue Schlapp jokingly suggested that “we should flip the mayor.” But the coin ultimately prevailed.)

In June last year, City Council members each cast 20 identical ballots in hopes of filling the District 1 vacancy created when Carl Brewer became mayor. All resulted in three votes for Lavonta Williams and three votes for Treatha Brown-Foster. A week later, the Council on its first round of voting unanimously picked Williams, who will have the position until 2009.

Franchise trash? Create a city sales tax? Silence.

CoinJust seven years ago, City Hall got only 27 percent of their general fund from property taxes. But increasing valuations and growth have bumped the city’s share of that cash to 32 percent of its biggest fund, according to a report delivered to City Council members this week. Meanwhile, almost every other piggy bank of revenue has been slipping. Franchise fees dropped from 20 percent to 17 percent; gas tax (based on gallons used, not the climbing price) has dropped from about 11 percent to about 8 percent; and all that $5.8 million the city used to get from the state is now a big zero because of a change in state law. Also, the money the city gets from franchise agreements with Southwestern Bell have fallen fast as many drop their land lines in favor of mobile phones. Revenue from the phone franchise fees has fallen $2.9 million since 2000, the city’s report showed.

All this has raised the question of whether the city should franchise other services, such as trash. Council members didn’t say a word when city budget analyst Mark Manning posed the question. They also didn’t have much to say when Manning showed that the city would get $60 million a year if it enacted a one cent sales tax. But some cringed at the notion that cities such as Eastborough get a bite ($179,000 for Eastborough) of the county-wide sales tax pie despite not having any known retail activity in their small community. But Council members have repeatedly — dozens of times — rejected any suggestions that the city increase taxes. The Council has raised water and sewer bills, increased court costs and hiked bus fares and the cost of a round of golf at the municipal courses. But it hasn’t touched the mill levy in more than a decade.

To see the city’s quarterly reports, click here.