Wichita, Ks. – Will lawmakers get into the fight between the city and county over about $20 Million?
“Yes, we could introduce bill,” says Democrat House member Jim Ward of Wichita. “Yes, a bill could change the way the money is allocated.”
But Ward says it’s unlikely, given the status of what lawmakers will face when they get back to work with a budget problem and other issues.
The city will try talking to lawmakers, anyway.
“Our next step would be to visit with our legislators in Topeka and share with them that we can make an argument that our population base has shifted dramatically,” Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said this week. “And the formula doesn’t work for us.”
The city is asking for roughly $20 Million from the county-wide sales tax. In 1985 lawmakers passed a funding formula on how the money is handed out. City leaders say they should get more. County leaders say, no.
“I know that all five (county) commissioners have been concerned about this. They have all expressed at different times concerns about the one cent sales tax,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell. “The mayor was also very clear in saying it’s the city’s intention to send this to Topeka to have the legislature look at this and possibly change that formula.”
Howell says if the city is successful in getting the funding distribution changed, they may have to look at budget changes. And the county commission has already been criticized by some for making budget cuts this year.
“And again, I like tax cuts, I voted for tax cuts everywhere I can,” said Howell. “And I know that Wichita is anxious to get their hands on (roughly) $18 Million that normally goes to Sedgwick County. And their argument of course is that they believe that 76% of the people who pay those taxes live in Wichita.”
Howell says the county will engage lawmakers over the issue, just like the city plans to do.
But, ultimately, lawmakers say it could be a tough sell in Topeka.
“The city’s upset because the city contributes about 75% of the total amount of sales tax collected but only gets about 50 cents back in terms of, from the county. They’re uspet about that which is legitimate. You pay the bill you should get some of the benefit. The county is saying no we are doing what is best for the entire county,” explains Ward. “I don’t think in the next legislative session when we have a constant budget crisis, we have school finance, we have a department of children and family that are having a meltdown, I’m not sure this can squeeze in… that local city county fight would get involved in Topeka. We tend to try to stay out of that.”
The city maintains, it will try.
“No question, we’ve been arguing that. And we have also asked the county, if you would just direct that revenue stream into portions of the city infrastructure that we’ve been asking for and that deserve, we’re fine without changing the formula,” says Longwell. “Again, if they would direct the revenue, we would keep the formulas the same. But understand, three other counties around the state have had to change the formula based on their population shifts. We’re not any different.”