Will the proposed Wichita sales tax result in more paved streets? It depends on what you mean by “pave.”
Of the proposed Wichita sales tax that voters will consider in November, a portion is scheduled to be used for streets. The specific language in the ordinance that the Wichita City Council passed on August 5 states “with an amount not to exceed $27.8 million dollars of such tax applied for street maintenance and repairs.”
But “maintenance and repairs” may mean different things to different people. The “Yes Wichita” group that supports the sales tax states this on their website:
What happens to neighborhood streets if we pass the sales tax proposal?
The city would contract to pave an additional 111 miles of neighborhood streets. This would help catch up the backlog with an infusion of additional resources targeted to some of the worst streets in the city. It would join the $8 million in regular funding to pave more than 1,900 miles of neighborhood streets.
Appearing on KNSS radio on August 26, Yes Wichita spokesman Jon Rolph said “we’ll be able to double the number of miles of paved streets over the next five years.”
That sounds as though sales tax money will be used to convert dirt streets into concrete or asphalt streets. That, I believe, is what most people would conclude when reading or hearing the language produced by the Yes Wichita group.
But that’s not what will happen if the sales tax passes. No sales tax money will be used to convert dirt streets to concrete or asphalt streets, which is the normal meaning of “pave.”
Here’s how dirt streets are paved in Wichita: The surrounding property owners petition for the formation of an improvement district. If a successful petition is filed, the city paves the street, and the property owners in the improvement district pay the cost. A city document titled Petitioning for Residential Street Paving explains in more detail.
How will sales tax proceeds be used regarding streets? The July 22 presentation to the city council held this: “The sales tax funds would repair 111 lane miles of streets over the next five years, focusing on some of the worst residential streets in Wichita. Coupled with the current CMP budget allocation of $8 million, a total of 1,964 lane miles will be repaired over the next five years.”
A little backwards arithmetic shows that without sales tax revenue, the city plans to pay for the repair of 1964 – 111 =1853 lane miles. The sales tax would increase what is already planned and budgeted through existing funding by (1964 – 1853) / 1853 = six percent.
As for Rolph’s contention that “we’ll be able to double the number of miles of paved streets over the next five years”: Even if we grant that he used pave to mean repair, the city won’t be able to double the miles. Instead, city documents indicate the sales tax will allow for an additional six percent in the number of lane miles to be repaired. That’s quite different from doubling, which means to increase something by 100 percent.
Has the Yes Wichita group been merely careless in using the word pave? Or is the group trying to present the proposed sales tax as something other than what it is?
On top of that, let’s pretend the numbers *do* support Mr. Rolph’s assertion. In what world would that be a good thing?
After all, isn’t that part of the problem here… that we already have more miles of paved streets than we can afford to maintain? When you’re taking the desperation step of using sales tax to fund ongoing expenses (the civic equivalent of paying your house payment with your credit card), you sure as heck don’t dig that hole deeper.