Arena Project’s Failing Finances
Critics And Tax Hike Opponents Were Right
From Kansas Taxpayers Network
“The arena critics are being proven right,” said Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, the oldest taxpayer organization in Kansas. “As the leading opponent of the 2004 downtown arena project in Wichita, it is becoming increasingly clear that this project is in major trouble.”
“In 2004 KTN’s Vote NO flyer warned, ‘Key details about the arena such as location, parking, and design, are not known’,” Peterjohn said. “Our vote NO flyer also warned, ‘With a $184.5 million price tag and no guarantee of events, the arena is a huge gamble with taxpayers money. Half of the events at the Kansas Coliseum (12,000 seats) have less than 3,000 people attend’.” Now the “guaranteed $184.5 million price tag,” is history and the total cost for this deeply flawed project continues to grow and critical details remain up in the air.
“In our final item urging county voters to reject the sales tax hike to fund the arena, KTN’s flyer warned, ‘The build it and they will come syndrome sounds good but the money spent would be better utilized in YOUR pocket’,” Peterjohn said. “If the county’s sales tax for the arena was used to lower the county’s property tax, we could reduce the county’s mill levy by over 60 percent or roughly 20 mills for the duration of this tax.”
The arena tax hike was narrowly approved by just over 50 percent of voters in November, 2004. “If the voters had another chance at the arena issue at the ballot box, and taking the tax money that has already been collected and not yet spent, to be used to lower county property taxes and refunded to taxpayers, the downtown arena project would be terminated by the people,” Peterjohn said.
Arena tax hike advocates succeeded in forcing voters to approve this sales tax increase with the not-so-veiled threat that a property tax hike would otherwise occur. Sedgwick County commissioners unanimously approved a large property tax hike, in August 2006, funding higher county spending in addition to the arena sales tax hike.
Two of the three incumbent county commissioners seeking reelection in 2006 lost their seats in large part due to their support for raising property taxes in particular and all county taxes in general. The two incumbents, commissioners Burtnett and Sciortino, were defeated by challengers, Parks and Welshimer, who signed KTN’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising not to raise county taxes.