Carlos Mayans addresses state and local issues

Last Friday immediate past Wichita mayor Carlos Mayans addressed members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Speaking of his experience as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, Mayans said that Kansas state spending must be brought under control. Having served under governors from both parties, he said that Republicans spend as much as Democrats. Some people change after they get elected, he said, acting differently in office from how they campaigned. It’s important to hold these people accountable.

Turning to Medicaid, Mayans said the federal government requires a certain minimum level of coverage. Then, there are 33 optional things that states may decide to cover. Kansas offers 23 of these. Further, the health care bill in the Senate will expand the number of people that are eligible for Medicaid.

On local issues, the City of Wichita has some challenges ahead, he said. Our local governments are spending too much money with very little accountability to the taxpayers and that tax increases will be suggested to balance the budget.

Mayans corrected the record over allegations that his actions drove away a Bass Pro Shops store from the struggling WaterWalk development in downtown Wichita. Mayans said that he cut $3 million from a $33 million project: $2 million from the parking garage, and $1 million from the canal. The cuts to the canal made it not as deep and enabled it to be heated in winter, he said. Nothing else was cut by his administration, but now the project is $42 million. Noting the current state of the project, Mayans asked: “And has anything else happened? No.”

He also reminded the audience that council members Paul Gray, Sue Schlapp, and now-mayor Carl Brewer voted for this plan.

Mayans said he can understand WaterWalk developer Jack DeBoer’s frustration. At one time DeBoer wanted to tear down the Wichita Boat House to make room for new development. Mayans advised his that the people of Wichita would not go along with this plan, but DeBoer wouldn’t listen.

There’s also been talk of shifting the plan for WaterWalk to a “civic center,” to include non-profit organizations and museums. Mayans said this would be contrary to the original intent of the city and its representation to taxpayers when the city acquired the land.

Furthermore, he said that the financing of WaterWalk, because it is based on tax increment financing and sales tax anticipation districts, requires property and sales taxes to be paid in order to fulfill the bonds. Non-profit organizations don’t pay these taxes, so the result would be a continual need for subsidy by the city.

In answering a question, Mayans said that private developers from out of state have looked at making their own, private investment in downtown Wichita. But the city bureaucracy rejected this effort. Mayans also mentioned the The Cordish Companies of Baltimore (developers of the Power & Light District in Kansas City) as possible development partners in WaterWalk. But Mayans said that Cordish doesn’t like to be involved in projects where the public sector is involved, as there is too much red tape. Also, WaterWalk developers didn’t want outsiders being involved.

Regarding city council members and the part-time nature of the job, Mayans said that here are at least one or two council members who don’t show up until the day of the council meeting. Then they pick up a packet that may be five hundred pages long.

On Wichita’s future water needs, Mayans said that Equus Beds Aquifer Storage and Recovery project currently under development has never been tried anywhere else. He said that Wichita should build another lake instead. Wichita sells water at high rates to surrounding cities, he said, and uses this to curtail economic development in other communities.

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