In Wichita, the public deserves and should demand answers


Following, from Kansas Senator Michael O’Donnell, a discussion of issues surrounding the proposed Wichita one cent per dollar sales tax. O’Donnell served on the Wichita City Council for nearly two years before resigning to serve in the senate.

Kansas Senator Michael O'Donnell
Kansas Senator Michael O’Donnell
We are less than one week from an incredibly important election cycle where those of us in Wichita will vote for our future in a 4, 5 or 6 year timeframe; Governor for 4, Sales tax for 5 and Senator for 6. Before we go to the polls, the Wichita City Council needs to level with the public and answer critical questions, if not, they continue the “politics-as-usual” game that has been exhaustingly prevalent during the all-too-disappointing Brewer administration. Is City Hall hoping to “run out the clock,” praying the public will become so disengaged with the election that somehow Wichitans will think the city has been straight-forward? Maybe I am being too critical, but it’s hard not to be critical when I experienced the “you can’t fight City Hall” realities directly. I saw first-hand how City Hall can be a barrier to quality of life instead of helping to enable it. Here are a list of 5 questions — one for each year of the tax — we need to have answered (and should have had answered long ago):

  1. Who is the Citizen Oversight Committee? You’ll hear City Hall and supporters of the sales tax applaud the fact that there will be “strict” citizen oversight. What does that mean? And who exactly are the citizens on this committee? You might call me crazy, however, why shouldn’t we know who will be handling our tax dollars before the election? I find it insulting and arrogant to not have the names of the members before we cast our ballots.

  2. Why are streets included in the package? If street funding is so indispensable, why has the majority of the council indicated they will be taking around $30 million out of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to fund a new downtown library? I find it almost maddening for them to consume such a large chunk of CIP dollars for a project many citizens find unnecessary while proclaiming we must have more money for streets. Is the Council not aware the city of Mulvane recently passed a designated sales tax to build a new library?

  3. Why did the City disregard the Water Task Force? In 2013 the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce started the Chamber Water Task Force to develop a solution to the potential water crisis. This task force was comprised of business leaders along with officials from the city, county and state. The task force developed a plan that would be addressed as a region, not just the city; but the city completely disregarded this plan and went ahead with the far-more-costly $250 million plan and didn’t consult with the task force or ask the state to assist. I find it mind-blowing that all the effort and time placed into the task force would be so easily ignored for a more expensive plan.

  4. And finally, a question that I’ve been yearning to find out: What happens in 5 years to Transit if there isn’t an extended sales tax? Will we inflate a system only to deflate it further down the road? It seems to me this temporary sales tax doesn’t provide an item like an arena or library (Mulvane) or a water park (Derby) it pays for the items we already fund with our property taxes or water bills for the most part.

  5. The final question is more tongue-in-cheek, but do the council members or the mayor not realize they have the ability to raise property taxes? We elect leaders to make tough decisions and not to “pass the buck” and tell the voters “you decide.” If these items on the sales tax ballot are so desperately needed, why won’t they raise the mill levy? Is there a fear of being voted out of office?

These questions (1-4) should be addressed sooner rather than later, as early voting has already started. We also need to keep in mind the ironic timing of the sales tax starting April 1st, 2015, which is six whole days (6!!!) or 144 hours before voters in Wichita head to the ballot box to elect a new Mayor and at least one and up to three new council members (a majority). I pray the next council will not be handcuffed to the current council’s decision to rush this sales tax question through without answering these (and multiple other) questions. There is still time, but we see the seconds counting down starting with the 6, 5, and 4……..


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