Category Archives: Sedgwick county government

From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Republican Candidates for Sedgwick County Commission. Appearing, in order of their initial appearance, were:

  • Richard Ranzau, District 4.
  • Pete Meitzner, District 1.
  • Jim Howell, District 5.

This was recorded September 7, 2018.

Shownotes

Taxers prefer Hugh Nicks for Sedgwick County Commission

Those who supported higher sales taxes in Wichita also support one Sedgwick County Commission District 4 Republican candidate exclusively.

In 2014 the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, now known as the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, managed a campaign to persuade voters to institute a sales tax in the City of Wichita. The sales tax was to be one cent per dollar for five years, estimated to raise about $400 million in total. Of that, $250 million was to pay for enhancing the ASR water supply project, $80 million for job creation, and lesser amounts for bus transit and street repair.

The sales tax failed to pass, with 62 percent of voters saying no. Since then, the wisdom of voters in rejecting the tax has become evident. For example, the city has developed a plan to provide the same benefits for water supply for over $100 million less.

During the 2014 campaign the sales tax boosters raised campaign money through an organization named Yes Wichita Inc. Over one hundred people and companies contributed $321,527 in cash, and the Chamber of Commerce added $50,818 as an in-kind contribution.

These people and companies contributed money to persuade voters to raise taxes in Wichita. In some cases, a lot of money: $100,818 from the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, $40,000 from Intrust Bank, and $25,000 from Westar Energy.

Some of these people and companies have also contributed to a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission District 4 Republican primary election. I examined campaign finance reports for matches. It isn’t an exact science. The data is not filed in a way that can be readily analyzed by a computer in a spreadsheet or database. Sometimes donations are made in a company name, and sometimes by owners or executives of the same company. There are spelling errors and variations in how company names are reported. So I may have failed to notice matches, and there is a small chance that I made erroneous matches.

Based on my research, I found that all the pro-tax people and companies who also contributed to Sedgwick County Commission District 4 Republican candidates had one thing in common: They contributed to Hugh Nicks exclusively. His opponent, Richard Ranzau, received no contributions from the pro-tax people and companies, based on my analysis.

Separately, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC has spent $45,148 on political candidates through August 1 of this year. Of that, $36,665 was spent in favor of one candidate, Hugh Nicks. That’s 81.2 percent spent on one candidate from an organization that contributed $100,818 towards higher taxes. (See Wichita Chamber PAC spends heavily for Hugh Nicks.)

What does this mean: Those who want higher sales taxes in Wichita contribute to Hugh Nicks for Sedgwick County Commission, and he alone? It is a coincidence, mere serendipity?

In his campaign literature, Hugh Nicks says “Taxes Are High Enough.”

But the evidence is clear: Those who want higher taxes prefer Hugh Nicks.

Following, a table showing the commonality between contributors to the Yes Wichita sales tax campaign in 2014 and Hugh Nicks. Click for a larger version.

Wichita Chamber PAC spends heavily for Hugh Nicks

The Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC dedicates a large portion of its spending on placing its crony in office.

In the contest for Sedgwick County Commission District 4, the Wichita Chamber of Commerce is spending heavily on one candidate.

Through its political action committee, the Chamber has spent $45,148 on political candidates through August 1 of this year. (There could be more spending before the August 7 primary. We don’t know.)

Of that, $36,665 was spent in favor of one candidate, Hugh Nicks. (The Chamber PAC’s finance report designates these expenditures as in favor of Nicks.)

That’s 81.2 percent spent on one candidate.

Click for larger.

Besides the spending on Nicks, the Chamber PAC sent money to legislative and statewide candidates. Most contributions were for $500, with the most notable exception being Governor Jeff Colyer at $2,000.

Really, the Chamber’s spending hasn’t been so much in favor of Hugh Nicks as it has been against his opponent Richard Ranzau.

And this campaigning by the chamber has been largely based on outright lies and absurd leaps of logic regarding Ranzau’s record. Their record is documented on the pages of Voice for Liberty. (Click here to read the articles.)

Instead of denouncing the lies and distortions told on his behalf by the Wichita Chamber PAC, candidate Hugh Nicks embraces the PAC’s endorsement.

We’d like to be able to trust the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. We want to trust our business and civic leaders. We want the Chamber and its surrogates and affiliates like Greater Wichita Partnership to succeed in building the Wichita economy.

But the Chamber is shaming itself in this campaign, and spending a lot of money to do that.

It would be one thing if the Chamber and its surrogates were successful in economic development efforts in the region. But if you’ve been following analyst James Chung — and it seems like everyone has — he’s delivered a sobering message: The Wichita economy has not been growing. “[Wichita has been] stuck in neutral for about three decades, with basically no growth, amidst the landscape of a growing U.S. economy,” he said. (In fact, in 2016 the Wichita economy shrank from the previous year, and numbers for 2017 don’t look much better.)

Chung says we need to change our ways. In his June visit he said, and the Chung Report wrote, “Every market signal points to the same conclusion: The manner in which Wichita is operating during this critical point in our history is just not working.”

When James Chung (and others) says our manner of operation is not working, it’s the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its ecosystem that must assume a large portion of blame.

Having failed the people of Wichita, now we know just how much the Chamber wants to put Hugh Nicks on the Sedgwick County Commission.

Wichita Chamber PAC spending on Hugh Nicks

The Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC dedicates a large portion of its spending on placing its crony in office.

There is an updated version of this containing data from new reports. Click here.

In the contest for Sedgwick County Commission District 4, the Wichita Chamber of Commerce is spending heavily on one candidate.

Through its political action committee, the Chamber has spent $39,925 on political candidates through July 26 of this year. (There could be more spending before the August 7 primary. We don’t know.)

Of that, $31,442 was spent in favor of one candidate, Hugh Nicks. (The Chamber PAC’s finance report designates these expenditures as in favor of Nicks.)

That’s 78.8 percent spent on one candidate.

Besides the spending on Nicks, the Chamber PAC sent money to legislative and statewide candidates. Most contributions were for $500, with the most notable exception being Governor Jeff Colyer at $2,000.

Really, the Chamber’s spending hasn’t been so much in favor of Hugh Nicks as it has been against his opponent Richard Ranzau.

And this campaigning by the chamber has been largely based on outright lies and farcical leaps of logic regarding Ranzau’s record. Their record is documented on the pages of Voice for Liberty.

We’d like to be able to trust the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. We want to trust our business and civic leaders. We want the Chamber and its surrogates and affiliates like Greater Wichita Partnership to succeed in building the Wichita economy.

But the Chamber is shaming itself in this campaign, and spending a lot of money to do that.

It would be one thing if the Chamber and its surrogates were successful in economic development efforts in the region. But if you’ve been following analyst James Chung — and it seems like everyone has — he’s delivered a sobering message: The Wichita economy has not been growing. “[Wichita has been] stuck in neutral for about three decades, with basically no growth, amidst the landscape of a growing U.S. economy,” he said. (In fact, in 2016 the Wichita economy shrank from the previous year, and numbers for 2017 don’t look much better.)

Chung says we need to change our ways. In his June visit he said, and the Chung Report wrote, “Every market signal points to the same conclusion: The manner in which Wichita is operating during this critical point in our history is just not working.”

When James Chung (and others) says our manner of operation is not working, it’s the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its ecosystem that must assume a large portion of blame.

Having failed the people of Wichita, now we know just how much the Chamber wants to put Hugh Nicks on the Sedgwick County Commission.

Joseph Ashby endorses Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau

Conservative grassroots activist and pioneering radio host Joseph Ashby explains why Richard Ranzau is the best choice for Sedgwick County Commission District 4. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Hugh Nicks: Misinformed, or lying?

Analysis of criticism by Hugh Nicks, a candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, demonstrates that the candidate is either misinformed or lying.

On his Facebook page, Sedgwick County Commission candidate Hugh Nicks accuses Richard Ranzau of “Voting against our community’s children and babies.” As evidence, Nicks supplies a link to an article in the Wichita Eagle. 1

What’s notable about this claim is this paragraph from the article Nicks uses as evidence:

In 2015, Ranzau and other commissioners voted to cut the federal Women, Infants and Children program grant by $320,000 to $1.9 million. He said at the time that WIC could be more efficient because it was serving fewer clients. The county health department used only $1.83 million of the $2.15 million it was awarded the year before. 2

Note that the amount Ranzau (and others) voted to spend on WIC was slightly more than what was spent the year before, at a time when WIC demand was declining, as there were fewer clients. At the time, KMUW Radio reported: “Citing a recent decline in WIC participants that coincides with an increase in employees with the program, the commission’s majority voted to accept only a portion of the grant, saying the full amount wasn’t needed.” 3

So no needy women or children went without the ability to use this program. The commission voted to reduce spending on administrative costs. The commission does not have the authority to set qualifications for participating in the program, nor does the commission set the level of benefits, that is, the amount of money and services participants receive. The county merely administers the program according to federal and state guidelines.

What does Hugh Nicks think of this? In the Eagle article he uses in his Facebook post, the reporter wrote this about Nicks:

He also called the WIC program “one of the saddest things I’ve seen recently.”

“When it comes to infants and children, I’m not too worried about politics, but I am concerned about children’s health and safety,” Nicks said. “The commission has a duty to protect the most vulnerable among us, particularly when they have nowhere else to turn.”

Since no women and children lost their benefits or had them cut, it’s difficult to see why Nicks is sad.

Is he concerned that the county trimmed administrative costs? Consider some of the values listed in Nicks’ campaign literature: “Ask tough questions” and “Be conservative with finances.”

That is what the commission did, under Richard Ranzau’s chairmanship. Trimming administrative costs — no matter who is paying them — is financially conservative.

Those savings came from “asking tough questions,” a value Nicks upholds. Yet for doing that, Nicks blasts the commission, including Ranzau, as “sad” and “political.”

Voters ought to ask: Is Hugh Nicks merely uninformed, or is he lying? It might be tempting to dismiss these remarks as having been made by an uninformed candidate. But Nicks says he has been running since October 2017 so that he can learn about the issues. 4

If we eliminate “uninformed,” we’re left with “lying.”

Nearby, see Richard Ranzau speak on this issue. (Hugh Nicks and his campaign surrogates were also invited, but would not appear.) Or, click here to view at YouTube.

Following, some excerpts from the commission meeting where this matter was discussed: 5

Ms. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz, Director of the Health Department: “The Health Department has provided WIC services for well over 40 years, and the program is funded entirely through the United States Department of Agriculture that passes through KDHE.”

Later:

Chairman Ranzau said, “Our assigned caseload is going down 9.88 percent, expenditures going up 5.51 percent, and we’re actually combining two, last year there were two separate, the WIC and then the breastfeeding.”

Ms. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz said, “That’s correct.”

Later:

Chairman Ranzau said, “Historically, the past, we tend to spend less than what we’re actually given. Like the last two years, we spent about $320,000 less than what we were given to begin with?”

Ms. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz said, “Well, we don’t get a lump sum from WIC. We just get what we spend.”

Chairman Ranzau said, “But we spent $320,000 less than what we were authorized to spend?”

Ms. Adrienne Byrne-Lutz said, “Yes.”


Notes

  1. Nicks For County Commission Facebook page, July 20, 2018. Available at https://www.facebook.com/NicksForCountyCommission/photos/a.1633354576739927.1073741832.1591968844211834/2011959645546083/.
  2. Tidd, Jason. Ranzau, County Commission challengers spar over grant funding in health forum.” *Wichita Eagle, July 17, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article215075195.html.
  3. Sandefur, Sean. Sedgwick Co. Commissioners Approve Reduced WIC Grant. Available at http://www.kmuw.org/post/sedgwick-co-commissioners-approve-reduced-wic-grant.
  4. “You may wonder why I’m announcing so early, since the Republican Primary for the County Commission seat isn’t until August 2018. The reason is simple. I like to do my homework. I want to learn about the way Sedgwick County governs, and the rationale behind the decisions that have been made. I want to learn about the issues that are most important to the people in the 4th District. I think serving as County Commissioner is too important to take an on-the-job-training approach, and I don’t want to be on a learning curve at the taxpayers’ expense.” Nicks4commissioner.com. News. October 19, 2017. Available at http://www.nicks4commissioner.com/news.html. .
  5. Sedgwick County Commission. Meeting Minutes, October 7, 2015. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=436793&GUID=B8AC30D4-8245-4631-A804-0690C15BC9CC.

Hugh Nicks and the law enforcement training center

Sedgwick County Commission candidate Hugh Nicks again falsely criticizes his opponent for living up to the values Nicks himself proclaims.

On July 23, 2018, Hugh Nicks wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page: “Richard Ranzau has spent the last 8 YEARS saying ‘NO’ to our safety. Voting against support for law enforcement.” An article from the Wichita Business Journal is then linked. 1

Nicks is a candidate for the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners, District 4. His opponent is the incumbent Richard Ranzau.

The article the Nicks campaign uses reports on deliberations on the new Law Enforcement Training Center in the spring of 2016. 2 But: There are some problem with Hugh Nicks’ presentation and interpretation of this matter.

First, the action described in the article is “tabled.” This merely postponed a decision to another day. No one voted either yes or no.

Second, it wasn’t postponed for long. The next week the Sedgwick County Commission held a joint meeting with the Wichita City Council to discuss the training center. 3 The result of this meeting was unanimous approval, as reported by the Wichita Eagle: “Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita unanimously approved a letter of intent Tuesday to build a new training center at Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus.” 4

The next day, at the regular meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, the training center was considered. 5 In his remarks from the bench, Commissioner Ranzau summarized: “I do believe this is the best deal we can get given the circumstances, certainly for the county, law enforcement and fire folks, it’s a tremendous step forward. I appreciate our legal council and all the work they did as well on this and the County Manager. I know there’s been a lot of discussion, a lot of stuff going on, so appreciate that, and I’ll be supportive of this motion today.”

When a vote was taken, all commissioners voted in favor.

Now that you know the entire story, reconsider the claim that Hugh Nicks made regarding Ranzau and the law enforcement training center: “Voting against support for law enforcement.”

That simply isn’t true. Not even close.

So: Why is Hugh Nicks critical of Ranzau on this matter? Why is he creating lies?

Consider some of the values listed in Nicks’ campaign literature:

“Be conservative with finances”

“Decisions have consequences. Make them wisely.”

This is what Richard Ranzau did. He favored, as you can read below, a less expensive option — the fiscally conservative option — but voted for the compromise position so that the project could proceed.

Furthermore, the Wichita Business Journal article that Hugh Nicks relies on as a source holds this: “On Wednesday, commissioners — particularly Chairman Jim Howell and Richard Ranzau — expressed concern about selecting a bid that wasn’t the lowest. MWCB has the second-highest cost of the four proposals, county documents show.”

Here, Ranzau was concerned about a potentially unwise decision, that is, not accepting the lowest bid. That’s fiscally conservative and wise.

So exactly what problems does Hugh Nicks have with Richard Ranzau?


Following, an excerpt from the minutes of the meeting of the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners on May 18, 2016:

Commissioner Ranzau said, “As Commissioner Peterjohn alluded to, this particular attempt started basically back in July of 2015 when the mayor informed us that they would be willing to work with us on an RFP (Request for Proposal) together to move this forward. This particular effort has lasted 10 months. Now, that’s about four months longer than what I had anticipated, but never nevertheless, compared to the 30-year process that’s been going on overall, you can consider this almost lightning speed for government actions. Nevertheless, we are finally here at the point that we’re going to make a decision on the Law Enforcement Training Center, and I appreciate the effort of staff both here at the County and at the City, as well as all the Law Enforcement personnel who participated in getting us to this point.

“I think we have two options that will fit the needs. The WSU option would fit the need so would, I believe, the Commerce Building, which is over $3 million cheaper. That would be the particular one that I would have preferred to go to, because I think it does meet all of our community needs at the lowest cost possible for the taxpayers. That being said, while this may not be the most cost effective option that we could have gotten, it’s certainly probably the best we can get given the circumstances. The City of Wichita made it very clear they would not proceed with the Commerce Building. They would start all over and do it again if we selected that, so we’re left in the conundrum of what do we do? Do we say we aren’t going to do anything or do we say that we are going to work with them and see what we can do? Fortunately, we had a Chairman who had some vision and followed the big picture and said, well, if we’re going to spend more money on this facility, then what can we get for the extra expense for the taxpayers, and so we entered into discussions about the Fire Training Center, and while he was criticized for this, I think it’s an example of having a vision and not having tunnel vision.

“You’ve got to see the big picture, and he addressed two very important issues for this community in a very effective way. And so we’re not just here today to celebrate Law Enforcement Training Center, but we can celebrate the Regional Fire Training Center as well and the new partnership between the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County, and I think he should be congratulated for his vision and leadership in that area for our community. Sometimes, if you want to be a leader, have you have to be prepared to be criticized. But you continue to march forward and do the right thing because you know it’s the right thing. That’s what leadership is. Despite all the detractors and all the nay-sayers, you have a vision, you have a goal, and you execute a plan to reach that goal, and that’s admirable in this day and age.

“For those reasons, as stated, I do believe this is the best deal we can get given the circumstances, certainly for the county, law enforcement and fire folks, it’s a tremendous step forward. I appreciate our legal council and all the work they did as well on this and the County Manager. I know there’s been a lot of discussion, a lot of stuff going on, so appreciate that, and I’ll be supportive of this motion today.”

When a vote was taken, all commissioners voted in favor.


Notes

  1. Nicks For County Commission Facebook page, July 23, 2018. Available at https://www.facebook.com/NicksForCountyCommission/photos/a.1633354576739927.1073741832.1591968844211834/2019318654810182/.
  2. Heck, Josh. Sedgwick County Commission tables vote on law enforcement training center at WSU. Wichita Business Journal, May 11, 2016. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/blog/2016/05/sedgwick-county-commission-tables-vote-on-law.html.
  3. Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. Meeting detail, May 17, 2016. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=486352&GUID=99EB8331-86AD-48CD-B8E5-743F2FF28AA6.
  4. Salazar, Danial. Sedgwick County, Wichita agree to build law enforcement training center at WSU. Wichita Eagle, May 17, 2016. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article78051732.html.
  5. Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. Meeting detail, May 18, 2016. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=485988&GUID=ABD59669-B2C6-409F-8978-049DEF903C56.

Hugh Nicks and the Sedgwick County fishing dock

Sedgwick County Commission candidate Hugh Nicks criticizes his opponent for living up to the values Nicks himself proclaims.

On July 13, 2018, Hugh Nicks wrote this on his campaign’s Facebook page, referring to Richard Ranzau: “And even questioned the need for handicapped-accessible recreational options.” 1

Nicks is a candidate for the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners, District 4. His opponent is the incumbent Richard Ranzau.

The accusation is a bit vague, but it’s pretty certain that Nicks is referring to an item from 2011 when commissioners were asked to approve spending $53,500 on what was described as “VIC’S LAKE FISHING DOCK – FACILITIES DEPARTMENT FUNDING — ADA COMPLIANCE UPGRADES.”

Examining the record, we find that yes, there is a grain of truth in Nicks’ allegation: Ranzau did question this item, but not because it was “handicapped-accessible.” Here’s what happened.

On September 28, 2011, when this item came before the commissioners, Commissioner Ranzau expressed concern with the cost of the fishing dock, given the information commissioners had been provided. So too did Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Tim Norton. A motion was made to defer the item, and all commissioners present that day voted in agreement. 2

At the next meeting, on October 5, 2011, the item was again on the agenda. 3 At this meeting Joe Thomas, at that time Acting Director of the Purchasing Department, explained that the dock itself did not cost $53,500. Instead, the dock cost only $26,162. Other necessary items in the project included site prep ($6,920), a concrete sidewalk ($3,066), a concrete pavement parking and picnic area which includes an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant picnic table ($6,852), an asphalt drive ($7,400), site restoration ($1,500), and “general conditions” ($1,600).

Knowing this, $53,500 seems reasonable. And Ranzau said as much in remarks after these costs were presented: “So my questions were not based on whether or not because it was an ADA dock. If you take the word ADA off of it and you come to me and say you’re going to build a $53,000 dock, I’m going to ask, do we really need to do that? Because that’s a lot of money for a dock, and so we asked for further information about how that money was going to be spent, and it clarifies a lot of information.”

After more discussion, there was a vote, and all commissioners voted in favor of building the dock, including Ranzau and Peterjohn.

Now that we know the whole story, why would Hugh Nicks be critical of Ranzau on this matter? Especially considering these values listed in bullet points on Nicks’ campaign literature:

  • Never be afraid of hard work.
  • Listen openly. Debate respectfully. Ask tough questions.
  • Be conservative with finances and generous with time.
  • Decisions have consequences. Make them wisely.

I’ve emphasized where Ranzau’s action on the fishing dock aligns with Nicks’ values. The questions Ranzau asked weren’t really “tough questions,” but they were needed and submitted respectfully. The answers helped the commissioners learn they were indeed being conservative with finances. It was a decision made wisely, with complete information.

So exactly what problems does Hugh Nicks have with Richard Ranzau?


Following, relevant Sedgwick County Commission meeting minutes.

Excerpt from the meeting of the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners on September 28, 2011:

Chairman Unruh said, “Now we’re ready to discuss Item 6, and Commissioner Ranzau, I will ask you to lead that discussion, also.”

Commissioner Ranzau said, “Well, this is $50,000 for a boat dock, or for a dock out at the fishing lake. While I’ve had time to go out and look at the bridge at the Boys Ranch, I’ve not looked at this specific thing. And with the information I’ve been given, I’m not prepared to support this, because I’m not sure this is the best route to go. Particularly at this current status with our finances here, this seems like a lot of money for a fishing dock. And even though I’m a fisherman, I’m just not convinced. Unless I’m totally convinced it’s appropriate enough of a project, I’m not prepared to vote yes. It’s really up to the will of the Board. Today, if we vote on it today, I’ll vote no.” Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you. Commissioner Peterjohn.”

Commissioner Peterjohn said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m concerned with the price tag of $53,500 for basically a boat dock. I have concerns on the expense here, and I realize this is the low bid, and it’s a low bid by significant margin from two other firms that provided bids, and there was a much larger list of firms that didn’t even offer. My question to ask, is if we could also put this issue off a week like we did Item number 4 without causing any difficulty?”

Mr. William P. Buchanan said, “Yes.”

Commissioner Peterjohn said, “Mr. Chairman, I’d like to see if we could get some more information on this project, just like we did on the prior item.”

MOTION

Commissioner Peterjohn moved to defer Item 6 of the Board of Bids and Contracts Regular Meeting of September 22, 2011.

Commissioner Ranzau seconded the motion.

Chairman Unruh said, “All right. We have a motion and a second. Discussion? Commissioner Norton.”

Commissioner Norton said, “I’ll support the deferral. I would like to ask a question, though. It talks about that it’s not just the boat dock that we’re, actually we’re replacing one that should be out of service. Is that correct?”

There followed more discussion, and then the vote on the deferral. All commissioners voted in favor, except for Commissioner Skelton, who was absent.

Here are the complete minutes for the dock item from the meeting of the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners on October 5, 2011:

L 11-1028 RECONSIDERATION OF ITEM 6 OF THE MINUTES OF THE SEPTEMBER 22, 2011 MEETING OF THE BOARD OF BIDS AND CONTRACTS: VIC’S LAKE FISHING DOCK- FACILITIES DEPARTMENT.

Presented by Joe Thomas, Director, Purchasing Department. This item was deferred at the September 28, 2011 Commission Meeting.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Approve the recommendations of the Board of Bids and Contracts.

Mr. Joe Thomas, Acting Director, Purchasing Department, greeted the Commissioners and said, “The recommendation for this item is to accept the low bid from DanCo Enterprises, Inc in the amount of $53,500.00. I’ll be happy to answer questions. We also have members of staff that are available to answer questions as well, and I recommend approval of this item.”

Chairman Unruh said, “All right. Thank you, Joe. We’ve had lots of discussion and exposure to this item. Commissioners, are there any other comment or questions that need to be answered?”

MOTION
Commissioner Norton moved to approve the recommendation from the Board of Bids and Contracts. Commissioner Skelton seconded the motion.

Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you. We have a motion and a second. Commissioner Peterjohn.”

Commissioner Peterjohn said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Joe, could you give us just a quick rundown in terms of the, because the heartburn that we expressed last week was we were looking at a dock that was $53,000, and then we discussed $53,000 and change, and we discovered it was more than just a dock. And I was very much interested in getting for the record and appreciating of staff and other folks in terms of getting the bid broken down so we had a better understanding of what the numbers
actually were.”

Mr. Thomas said, “Yes. The fishing dock itself was $26,162, site prep was $6,920. Then there is a concrete sidewalk in the amount of $3,066. Then there is a concrete pavement parking and picnic area which includes ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant picnic table, $6,852. The asphalt drive was $7,400. To restore the site was $1,500, and general conditions $1,600 that made that total of $53,500.”

Commissioner Peterjohn said, “Thank you, Joe. Because Sedgwick County Park is, at the moment, currently surrounded by my district even though my best efforts to try to and get it split it up between myself and Commissioner Ranzau was not successful. But it’s a jewel, I think, that’s valuable for the entire Commission and the entire community, so I’m planning to be supportive now that we have this additional information and details. It’s a lot easier to explain the costs. It’s still an awful lot of money, but I’m comfortable with it, and I’ll be supportive.”

Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you, Commissioner. Commissioner Ranzau.”

Commissioner Ranzau said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to make several comments here. I originally wanted to postpone this or had some issues with this for a couple of reasons. I asked the question, do we really need to do, have an ADA dock given our current situation, our financial situation, and why do we need to do this now and I also questioned the cost of it. I’ve gotten some feedback, some of it supportive of my position, some of it is not. Some people think my opposition is somehow because I oppose the ADA or people with disabilities, which could not be further from the truth. I think it’s important to remember that we have an ADA plan here at the county which I have supported voted for things previously and I will continue to do so. So my questions were not based on whether or not because it was an ADA dock. If you take the word ADA off of it and you come to me and say you’re going to build a $53,000 dock, I’m going to ask, do we really need to do that? Because that’s a lot of money for a dock, and so we asked for further information about how that money was going to be spent, and it clarifies a lot of information. I think it’s reasonable and justified to question how we spend taxpayer dollars regardless of what it’s going to be spent on.

“I think the fact that it has an ADA stamp on it doesn’t mean in my mind that it should get a pass. I have questioned things that the Sheriff Department is going to do. I’ve questioned things that the Fire Department is going to do. I’ve questioned things that the road and bridge, Public Works are going to do. It’s not because I don’t support those things, but I want to make sure that each project and each cost is appropriate. I will continue to support the ADA program, but once again, if there is a program in the future that I think the costs seems a little out of whack, I’m not going to hesitate on behalf of the citizens to ask for more information and put the vote off if necessary. I also want to point out that at this particular meeting, we actually postponed two items.

Commissioner Ranzau continued, ““It was this item, and another one was a bridge that we’re going to possibly put in down at the [Judge Riddle] Boys Ranch. I called it a bridge to nowhere, because it’s actually a bridge to get horses to the pasture. And in my mind, that was the most problematic of the two, to be honest, because it’s almost four times the cost almost as what this is. That’s the one I spent more time investigating and learning about and as you’ll notice, it’s not back on the agenda yet, so we’ll have to address that in the future. I’m not singling out the ADA program at all. I have voted for them in the past and will continue to do so, but I’ll take a close eye at every spending project we have. And like I said, there were two different items on last week’s agenda that I talked about, and the most clearly problematic was the other one, the other one that didn’t get all the attention or all the press. So I want to clarify that so that people understand where I’m coming from. As I said, I make no apologies for examining how we are spending taxpayer dollars regardless of where it comes from, if it’s ADA, police, sheriff, whatever, these are all good programs, but we just need to make sure we get the best bang for our buck. Thank you.”

Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you, Commissioner. Before we go to vote here, Mr. David Calvert is here, a leader in the community for ADA issues. Did you want to make a comment, sir?”

Mr. David Calvert, Chair, Wichita/Sedgwick County Access Advisory Board, greeted the Commissioners and said, “I would like to, Mr. Chairman, just briefly, and I’ll spare you the 30-minute…I’ve got a microphone on. I don’t know if it works. I can hear myself, but that’s about it. I am David Calvert. I’m an attorney, but I also chair and have chaired for the last six years the Wichita/Sedgwick County Access Advisory Board, started out as the Wichita Access Advisory Board to advise the city on disability issues. Sedgwick County joined this board by this board’s request in, I think 2007, and each of you Commissioners have appointees to that board and the Manager has appointees to that board as well. I will spare you the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I will say as part of the proactive stance this county has taken and this board has taken on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a self-evaluation and transition plan was created in 2006. Self-evaluation itself is online. It is 200 pages. I don’t necessarily urge you to read it. I will tell you that the transition plan is also online, and there is a link to those plans on the home page, again to the county’s credit.

“The list of facilities covered by the transition plan is itself six pages long. The link to the Sedgwick County Park gets you to the Sedgwick County Park’s transition plan, which is 17 pages long. The total of all of these is like a couple of thousand pages. This particular fishing dock is referenced in the transition plan, pointing out that there are no accessible docks at all in Sedgwick County Park, and each one of the projects set forth in the transition plan is given a priority rating from very high to low priority. Low priority items can be done 5 or 10 years from now, high priority and very high priority items, many which should have been done by now. This is a very high priority item, and simply gives access to people with disabilities, which covers statistically probably 75,000 people in Sedgwick County alone, and if we all live long enough, it will cover each and every one of us at one time in our lives.

“The reason everybody doesn’t end up with a disability is a lot of us simply die first, which I guess is the ultimate disability, isn’t it? But I would, this is part of this Commission’s continuing commitment to ADA compliance. People with disabilities don’t ask for special favors.

“We ask for compliance with the ADA, which simply gives people with disabilities the same right to be independent that people without disabilities have, and I think that that’s what this does. I would urge this Commission to unanimously support this bid. Thank you.”

Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you, sir. We have a couple more comments. Commissioner Ranzau.”

Commissioner Ranzau said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to clarify a couple of things just for the public. The $53,000 we’re spending, $26,000 is for the dock itself. Now, that’s been part of my consternation that regardless whether it’s ADA compliant or not that that seems like a lot of money, but I know Mark Sroufe has done some research, and it’s possible that that actual cost will come in less than that, because he’s compared it to the price of some docks that other facilities have put into place. Also one of the big questions was why are we doing a dock now compared to, well, when you put it in the context of the overall budget. And I’ve been told that it’s a matter of priority and timing in that for the parks system, this is the high priority because, as he stated, we have no accessible docks, and it’s also a factor of timing in that the dock is getting to the point that now it needs to be replaced. So, I have to put all of those things together and then decide if this is the best way to spend money on behalf of the citizens at this time, and that’s why we took the time to ask the questions to get more information.”

Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you, Commissioner. Commissioner Skelton.”

Commissioner Skelton said, “I just wanted to concur with Mr. Calvert’s comments. I appreciate them very much. That provides the basis for my support for this project today.”

Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you, Commissioner. Commissioner Peterjohn.”

Commissioner Peterjohn said, “I’ll just state for the record I appreciate Mr. Calvert’s work on a volunteer basis for the board that works with these issues here in Sedgwick County. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you. Commissioner Norton.”

Commissioner Norton said, “Well, I’m going to be supportive. I’ve been supportive of what we’ve done over the years for our population that have difficulties maneuvering our community. The truth is to me it’s not about ADA, although some of that is prescriptive, it’s about what’s right for our community and the population that we live with that are part of our families, a robust part of our community and doing the right thing. So it’s not about the ADA, it’s prescriptive on what we do when we remodel something. It’s about what is right for our community. We’ve developed Sedgwick County Park with a balanced playground through help from West Side Rotary [Club of Wichita]. We continue to try to make our community as vibrant as we can for all the populations. So I think it’s the right thing to do. We were going to replace that anyway, and it makes sense to replace it in a manner that will make it accessible to all citizens regardless of age and difficulty. That’s all I have, Mr. Chair.”

Chairman Unruh said, “Thank you, Commissioner. I don’t believe I can add anything to all the conversation.

Chairman Unruh continued, “I also express my appreciation to Mr. Calvert and for your leadership on our committee that addresses these issues and I also see Lindsey here, she’s our staff person who keeps us on track. We’re proud of the valuable work she does for us all, so thank you.”

Mr. Calvert said, “I want to say, Mr. Chairman, if I might, Lindsey is the Vice Chairman of our committee, and she’s the one that does all the work.”

Chairman Unruh said, “It’s good to have someone like that around, isn’t it? Mr. Manager.”

Mr. Buchanan said, “I can’t help myself. So does that mean you’re the pretty face?”

Mr. Calvert said, “Are you looking at me or are you looking…”

Mr. Buchanan said, “Yes, no, I’m looking at you, Dave.”

Commissioner Peterjohn said, “I think the Manager needs a new pair of glasses.”

Chairman Unruh said, “You were right, Mr. Manager, that was unnecessary. Madam Clerk, I think we have a motion, we’re ready to call the vote.”

There was a vote, and all commissioners voted in favor.


Notes

  1. Nicks For County Commission Facebook page, July 13, 2018. Available at https://www.facebook.com/NicksForCountyCommission/photos/a.1633354576739927.1073741832.1591968844211834/2000527696689278/.
  2. Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. Meeting detail, September 28, 2011. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=161070&GUID=2982541F-CC0E-4FFE-9DE3-CE1C4D59FA4D.
  3. Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. Meeting detail, October 5, 2011. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=162540&GUID=1CF92BD6-DF16-460A-8BFA-F1B86A5AB115.

Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC mailing

In a campaign for Sedgwick County Commission, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC whips up a lie in order to criticize a candidate.

In a postcard paid for by the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee, Richard Ranzau is criticized: “Ranzau also suggested that Wichita annex a large local job-creating aerospace employer to generate more tax revenue.”

This claim is based on a farcical interpretation of what the commissioner actually said.

Excerpt from Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC mailing. Click for larger.

The postcard references as the source of the remarks, “Sedgwick County Commissioners Meeting Transcript, 4/18/18.” If you look at this transcript, here’s what Ranzau said: 1

Additionally, Spirit is not in the city of Wichita. It’s an industrial district, this is an agreement between the city and Wichita. If they would be annexed by the City of Wichita, taxes would go up by over nine mills. Okay. So that saves them $532,000 a year over the 20 years of this evaluation, I mean that’s $10.6 million. I think we should get credit for doing that to help them out. Okay? There’s other things that are out there that haven’t been quantified, and there’s things like I’ve say at the state level that should still come to fruition later on.

The problem with the Wichita Chamber PAC’s claim is this: Ranzau did not suggest that Wichita annex Spirit. He merely illustrated that property taxes within the City of Wichita are higher than those outside the city.

(Here’s the data: The total mill levy in the industrial district where Spirit is currently located is 114.895. The new facility, in the Wichita city limits, has a mill levy of 124.244. So, within Wichita, the tax rate is higher by 9.349 mills. 2)

The Wichita Chamber Regional PAC has attributed to Ranzau something he did not say. The Chamber’s PAC’s claim is not even close to what Ranzau said.

The Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC is lying. It should retract the accusation and apologize not only to Richard Ranzau, but also to the voters of Sedgwick County. It is they who are harmed by lies such as this.

Hugh Nicks is Ranzau’s opponent in the August primary election. The Wichita Chamber PAC supports Nicks with mailings like this. Let’s ask Hugh Nicks if he supports the Wichita Regional Chamber PAC lying about Ranzau.


Notes

  1. Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. Meeting detail, April 18, 2018. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=602255&GUID=CCB97C42-38F7-421C-85C5-05676B65D89B.
  2. “The total mill levy in the industrial district is 114.895. The new facility, in the City limits, has a mill levy of 124.244. So, within the City, the tax rate is higher by 9.349 mills. Tax levies in the industrial district include County Fire, Township and South Central Kansas Library District. They total 23.318 mills. Tax levies in the City limits exclude these three and add 32.667 mills for the City of Wichita. Spirit’s tax savings due to the lower tax rate is approximately $532,000.” Email from Brent Shelton, Economic Development & Tax System Director, Sedgwick County Division of Finance. April 12, 2018.

Is the pursuit of intergovernmental grants wise?

Is the pursuit of intergovernmental grants wise? Would local governments fund certain programs if the money was not seen as “free?”

An eariler version of this article failed to distinguish Jim Howell’s position from the majority of candidates. I regret the error.

At a forum of candidates for Sedgwick County Commission, the subject of intergovernmental grants was discussed. All candidates except for current commissioners Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell were fully in favor — enthusiastic, even — of the grant system. Both Ranzau and Howell expressed skepticism of the wisdom and efficacy of the grant system.

Other candidates participating in the forum had several justifications for accepting intergovernmental grants: It’s our tax money we sent to Washington or Topeka, it’s foolish not to try to get back our tax money, the grants are already funded, the money will simply go somewhere else. There are a few problems with these lines of reasoning.

First, the grants are not “already paid for.” Since the federal government runs a deficit, we’re not paying the entire cost of government. To say that some things (program A, B, and C) are paid for, and other things (programs D, E, and F) are not paid for, is making artificial distinctions that can’t be justified.

But deficit spending (on grants or other things) makes sense to politicians who want to deliver more government services than are being paid for by current levels of taxation. Federal and state grants make sense to local politicians and bureaucrats who want to be able to say they “won” federal or state dollars, so that the county or city can spend at no one’s cost. That’s how grant money is often characterized: Spending at no one’s cost.

But politicians and bureaucrats across the nation make the same argument. We all wind up spending money at no one’s cost, so they say.

Then: We must “try to get back our tax money.” This highlights another absurdity of government grants. We pay taxes, and then hope that we win the competition to get back our money. Who developed this system? Again, politicians like to boast they “won” grant funding that has no cost. Bureaucrats thrive on the jobs and power that grants provide, both locally and at the state and federal levels. Someone has to collect the taxes, write the applications for grants, evaluate the applications, administer the grant money at the state or federal level, administer the grant money at the local level, write reports on how the grant money is spent, and then someone has to read the reports. This creates a lot of jobs for bureaucrats. It also costs a lot, which is a deadweight cost, that is, costs that provide no benefit.

(If politicians and bureaucrats in other states, cities, and counties are smarter than us, do we have a fair chance of getting our tax money back in the form of grants?)

Finally: There is evidence that intergovernmental grants accepted today result in higher taxes tomorrow. Worse, this is for spending that local governments might not choose if local government bore the entire cost. But after the grant ends and after a constituency is created, it’s difficult to stop the spending.

Following, from 2013, a presentation of research on grants and future taxation.

Federal grants seen to increase future local spending

“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” — Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman

Is this true? Do federal grants cause state and/or local tax increases in the future after the government grant ends? Economists Russell S. Sobel and George R. Crowley have examined the evidence, and they find the answer is yes.

The research paper is titled Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes? Testing the Friedman-Sanford Hypothesis.

The difference between this research and most other is that Sobel and Crowley look at the impact of federal grants on state and local tax policy in future periods.

This is important because, in their words, “Federal grants often result in states creating new programs and hiring new employees, and when the federal funding for that specific purpose is discontinued, these new state programs must either be discontinued or financed through increases in state own source taxes.”

The authors caution: “Far from always being an unintended consequence, some federal grants are made with the intention that states will pick up funding the program in the future.”

The conclusion to their research paper states:

Our results clearly demonstrate that grant funding to state and local governments results in higher own source revenue and taxes in the future to support the programs initiated with the federal grant monies. Our results are consistent with Friedman’s quote regarding the permanence of temporary government programs started through grant funding, as well as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s reasoning for trying to deny some federal stimulus monies for his state due to the future tax implications. Most importantly, our results suggest that the recent large increase in federal grants to state and local governments that has occurred as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will have significant future tax implications at the state and local level as these governments raise revenue to continue these newly funded programs into the future. Federal grants to state and local governments have risen from $461 billion in 2008 to $654 billion in 2010. Based on our estimates, future state taxes will rise by between 33 and 42 cents for every dollar in federal grants states received today, while local revenues will rise by between 23 and 46 cents for every dollar in federal (or state) grants received today. Using our estimates, this increase of $200 billion in federal grants will eventually result in roughly $80 billion in future state and local tax and own source revenue increases. This suggests the true cost of fiscal stimulus is underestimated when the costs of future state and local tax increases are overlooked.

So: Not only are we taxed to pay for the cost of funding federal and state grants, the units of government that receive grants are very likely to raise their own levels of taxation in response to the receipt of the grants. This is a cycle of ever-expanding government that needs to end, and right now.

An introduction to the paper is Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes?.

From Pachyderm: Kansas District Court Judicial Candidates

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Kansas District Court Judicial Candidates. This was recorded July 13, 2018.

Kansas courts are divided into Judicial Districts. The 18th Judicial District has the same boundaries as Sedgwick County. Judges in the 18th Judicial District run for office and serve in Divisions. There are 28 Divisions. While these Divisions may appear to be geographical districts like those for county commissioner or state legislature, each Division covers the entire Judicial District. Therefore, all Sedgwick County voters may vote for judges in all divisions.

Candidates run as members of a party in the August primary, and winners advance to the November general election. Terms are four years. Of the Divisions that have elections this year, two have contested primaries, with all candidates filing as Republicans except for one Democrat in Division 7. In all other Divisions, only one candidate of any party has filed.

Here are the candidates in order of their opening statements.

Division 17 candidates:

  • Scott Anderson
  • Linda Kirby
  • David Lowdon
  • Richard Paugh

Division 7 candidates:

  • John Van Achen
  • Rodger Woods

For Hugh Nicks, a return to the backroom deal?

Remarks from a candidate for Sedgwick County Commission call for presenting a unified front to the public.

Speaking to the Wichita Pachyderm Club, Sedgwick County Commission candidate Hugh Nicks called for leadership to end what he called “divisive behavior:” “We can’t have — we can’t have the kind of divisive behavior that we have going on right now — we just — it’s just not — it’s just not acceptable.”

His opponent in the August Republican Party primary election is Richard Ranzau, who currently holds the office.

The “divisive behavior” that Nicks objects to takes several forms, but it’s clear he thinks that the Sedgwick County Commission should present a united front: The commission should have a plan that’s agreed to, and if commissioners don’t follow the plan, there should be consequences. At least that’s the moral of a story he told members of guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club.

That attitude is problematic. Especially so because the Sedgwick County Commission is different from a legislature. At the commission, there is no opportunity for interested parties — lobbyists and regular people — to testify before a committee as legislation is being developed. At the commission, there is no committee mark-up process in which the text of a bill is crafted and finalized. There is no committee vote that decides whether to recommend the bill to the entire legislative body.

So there really isn’t much debate or disagreement in public at the Sedgwick County Commission meetings. And when there is, it may be squelched. Last year a commissioner attempted to offer two amendments to a proposal. He was trying to generate a consensus. But the majority of commissioners wouldn’t have it, and the vote happened without considering the amendments. (See For Sedgwick County Commission, too much debate.)

It’s important that there be discussion in public, even if “divisive.” The prelude to the Kansas Open Meetings Act gives a reason why: “In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of this state that meetings for the conduct of governmental affairs and the transaction of governmental business be open to the public.” 1

When things are not done in view of the public, we call them backroom deals, with all the well-deserved negative connotations. Here’s an example, from 2012: Sedgwick County staff and several commissioners worked out a deal to sell an unused radio tower for $280,000. Commissioners Ranzau and Peterjohn thought there should be an auction. There was an auction, and the county received net proceeds of $553,872. 2

There is already too much suspicion that backroom deals are common at the county and City of Wichita. The more important and “divisive” a matter is, the more discussion it deserves in public.

But that isn’t the attitude of candidate Nicks when he said, “It’d be like a business: I mean, if in our business when we had closed door meetings when, when we argue about how we move forward, in our, in our business, we didn’t go out in front of our employees afterwards and act the same way that we did back behind closed doors. It just doesn’t work. And if we went and acted that way in front of our customers, if we did, we wouldn’t have any customers.”

Business and government are different things. A business is accountable only to its owners and shareholders, and also to the public by acting lawfully. Other than this, a business can do what it wants. It may make decisions using any means its owners tolerate. 3

Government, however, is different. It should be accountable to the people. Sometimes — frequently — that requires “divisive” discussion and debate. And the more important the matter, the more discussion and debate — transparency — is needed.

It’s a lot easier on commissioners if the attitude is “go along to get along.” That attitude has led to a faltering Wichita economy as majorities of members of the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission have avoided debate and gone along with the advice of staff and economic development regimes. I think this is the strategy of Hugh Nicks, should he be elected to the commission.

It might be tempting to dismiss these remarks as having been made by an uninformed candidate. But Nicks says he has been running since October 2017 so that he can learn about the issues. 4

Following are excerpts of remarks of Hugh Nicks and Richard Ranzau at the Wichita Pachyderm Club, June 8, 2018.

Hugh Nicks:

In the area — in the area of leadership, uh, it always starts at the top. Yeah, it doesn’t matter what organization it is, it always starts at the top. I’ll give you just a couple of examples. Uh, when I first started out as a young guy, and I was coaching, I worked for a guy Lafayette Norwood. Maybe some of you know that name. Uh, he was the first black basketball coach — the city league’s first black coach in the city of Wichita, actually. And I worked for the man for two years and learned some hard lessons from him because he wanted to fire me a couple times.

Yeah, he wanted to fire me because one day I decided I’d run some drills that he would not have agreed upon and when we got back in the locker room and got all the kids checked out, he came and said, “I believe I’m gonna fire you.” I said, “I need that job.” It pays 6,200 dollars a year. I already said that. He said, “Well I saw what you were doing down at the other end of the court. It’s not what we agreed on. And uh, so, when we have a plan, we leave this, this office, then you’re gonna do what you’re supposed to do, and you’re not gonna counter anything that I say out on that floor because we’re a team and we’re gonna move forward.”

Uh, so that — that was one of my first lessons that I learned with regard to leadership. But I, I think it starts at the top, so here’s what I see at the county: Um, you know, we can’t have — we can’t have the kind of divisive behavior that we have going on right now — we just — it’s just not — it’s just not acceptable.

Now, it’s alright to disagree in my view. I mean, I’m probably one of the — one of the guys that disagree with and vehemently if I have a strong opinion. But it’s not done in public. You just — you just — you just can’t do that. So, if you want to have an argument with me and go back behind closed doors and have it all day long, that’s alright with me. But when we come out and we’re in front of a staff, then were gonna act differently, and we’re certainly gonna act differently in front of our constituents — in front of, in front of the, the people that we represent. It’d be like a business: I mean, if in our business when we had closed door meetings when, when we argue about how we move forward, in our, in our business, we didn’t go out in front of our employees afterwards and act the same way that we did back behind closed doors. It just doesn’t work. And if we went and acted that way in front of our customers, if we did, we wouldn’t have any customers.

So I’m a proponent, and trying to answer that question from back there in, in terms of leadership style, that we need a different leadership style in the county. Now Richard’s probably gonna take exception with that because he fights for what he believes in and I understand that. But it’s a matter of the way we go about it in my view, uh, and everything starts at the top. I mean, it starts at the top and works its way down, uh, that’s — that’s how I view that.


Notes

  1. Kansas Statutes Annotated 75-4317. Available at https://www.ksrevisor.org/statutes/chapters/ch75/075_043_0017.html.
  2. As a result of system upgrades, the county no longer needs a radio tower located near 77th Street North and Interstate 135. Pixius Communications, LLC made an offer to purchase the tower and the five acre tower site for $280,000. The county proceeded making arrangements for the sale, preparing a sales agreement contract between Sedgwick County and Pixius with a sales price of $280,000, along with several other legal documents necessary to support the sale. … But commissioners Richard Ranzau and Karl Peterjohn felt that the best way to sell the tower was through an auction. … The result of the auction? A Florida company offered $610,000. After a sales commission ($55,000) and half of closing costs ($1,128), the county will net $553,872. That’s almost twice the price the county manager and two commissioners were willing to sell the tower for. See Weeks, Bob. Sedgwick County tower sale was not in citizens’ best interest. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/sedgwick-county-government/sedgwick-county-tower-sale-was-not-in-citizens-best-interest/.
  3. It’s true that some government officials say we must run government like a business. They usually mean that until they are held to the standards of accountability the private sector faces. Then, things are different. Accountability is avoided. (The non-discussion of expenses of the Intrust Bank Arena is an example of evading business-type accountability by members of the Sedgwick County Commission. See Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2017 is $4,222,182.)
  4. “You may wonder why I’m announcing so early, since the Republican Primary for the County Commission seat isn’t until August 2018. The reason is simple. I like to do my homework. I want to learn about the way Sedgwick County governs, and the rationale behind the decisions that have been made. I want to learn about the issues that are most important to the people in the 4th District. I think serving as County Commissioner is too important to take an on-the-job-training approach, and I don’t want to be on a learning curve at the taxpayers’ expense.” Nicks4commissioner.com. News. October 19, 2017. Available at http://www.nicks4commissioner.com/news.html. .

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2017 is $4,222,182

As in years past, a truthful accounting of the finances of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita shows a large loss.

The true state of the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita are not often a subject of public discussion. Arena boosters cite a revenue-sharing arrangement between the county and the arena operator, referring to this as profit or loss. But this arrangement is not an accurate and complete accounting, and it hides the true economics of the arena. What’s missing is depreciation expense.

There are at least two ways of looking at the finance of the arena. Nearly all attention is given to the “profit” (or loss) earned by the arena for the county according to an operating agreement between the county and SMG, a company that operates the arena. 1

This agreement specifies a revenue sharing mechanism between the county and SMG. For 2107, the accounting method used in this agreement produced a profit, or “net building income,” of $1,000,829 to be split (not equally) between SMG and the county. The county’s share was $300,414. 2

While described as “profit” by many, this payment does not represent any sort of “profit” or “earnings” in the usual sense. In fact, the introductory letter that accompanies these calculations warns readers that these are “not intended to be a complete presentation of INTRUST Bank Arena’s financial position and results of operations in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.” 3

Intrust Bank Arena Payments to Sedgwick County. Click for larger.
That bears repeating: This is not a reckoning of profit and loss in any recognized sense. It is simply an agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG as to how SMG is to be paid, and how the county participates.

A much better reckoning of the economics of the Intrust Bank Arena can be found in the 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Sedgwick County. 4 This document holds additional information about the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena. The CAFR, as described by the county, “… is a review of what occurred financially last year. In that respect, it is a report card of our ability to manage our financial resources.”

Regarding the arena, the CAFR states:

The Arena Fund represents the activity of the INTRUST Bank Arena. The facility is operated by a private company; the County incurs expenses only for certain capital improvements or major repairs and depreciation, and receives as revenue only a share of profits earned by the operator, if any, and naming rights fees. The Arena Fund had an operating loss of $4.3 million. The loss can be attributed to $4.5 million in depreciation expense.

Financial statements in the same document show that $4,522,596 was charged for depreciation in 2017.

Trends of events and attendance at Intrust Bank Arena. Click for larger.
If we subtract SMG payment of $300,414 from depreciation expense, we learn that the Intrust Bank Arena lost $4,222,182 in 2016.

Depreciation expense is not something that is paid out in cash. That is, Sedgwick County did not write a check for $4,522,596 to pay depreciation expense. Instead, depreciation accounting provides a way to recognize and account for the cost of long-lived assets over their lifespan. It provides a way to recognize opportunity costs, that is, what could be done with our resources if not spent on the arena.

But not many of our civic leaders recognize this, at least publicly. We — frequently — observe our governmental and civic leaders telling us that we must “run government like a business.” The county’s financial report makes mention of this: “Sedgwick County has one business-type activity, the Arena fund. Net position for fiscal year 2017 decreased by $4.3 million to $156.3 million. Of that $156.3 million, $146.0 million is invested in capital assets. The decrease can be attributed to depreciation, which was $4.5 million.5 (emphasis added)

At the same time, these leaders avoid frank and realistic discussion of economic facts. As an example, in years past Commissioner Dave Unruh made remarks that illustrate the severe misunderstanding under which he and almost everyone labor regarding the nature of spending on the arena: “I want to underscore the fact that the citizens of Sedgwick County voted to pay for this facility in advance. And so not having debt service on it is just a huge benefit to our government and to the citizens, so we can go forward without having to having to worry about making those payments and still show positive cash flow. So it’s still a great benefit to our community and I’m still pleased with this report.”

The contention — witting or not — is that the capital investment of $183,625,241 (not including an operating and maintenance reserve) in the arena is merely a historical artifact, something that happened in the past, something that has no bearing today. There is no opportunity cost, according to this view. This attitude, however, disrespects the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to raise those funds. Since Kansas is one of the few states that adds sales tax to food, low-income households paid extra sales tax on their groceries to pay for the arena — an arena where they may not be able to afford tickets.

Any honest accounting or reckoning of the performance of Intrust Bank Arena must take depreciation into account. While Unruh is correct that depreciation expense is not a cash expense that affects cash flow, it is an economic reality that can’t be ignored — except by politicians, apparently. The Wichita Eagle and Wichita Business Journal aid in promoting this deception.

The upshot: We’re evaluating government and making decisions based on incomplete and false information, just to gratify the egos of self-serving politicians and bureaucrats.

Reporting on Intrust Bank Arena financial data

In February 2015 the Wichita Eagle reported: “The arena’s net income for 2014 came in at $122,853, all of which will go to SMG, the company that operates the facility under contract with the county, Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said Wednesday.” A reading of the minutes for the February 11 meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission finds Holt mentioning depreciation expense not a single time. Neither did the Eagle article.

In December 2014, in a look at the first five years of the arena, its manager told the Wichita Eagle this: “‘We know from a financial standpoint, the building has been successful. Every year, it’s always been in the black, and there are a lot of buildings that don’t have that, so it’s a great achievement,’ said A.J. Boleski, the arena’s general manager.”

The Wichita Eagle opinion page hasn’t been helpful, with Rhonda Holman opining with thoughts like this: “Though great news for taxpayers, that oversize check for $255,678 presented to Sedgwick County last week reflected Intrust Bank Arena’s past, specifically the county’s share of 2013 profits.” (For some years, the county paid to create a large “check” for publicity purposes.)

That followed her op-ed from a year before, when she wrote: “And, of course, Intrust Bank Arena has the uncommon advantage among public facilities of having already been paid for, via a 30-month, 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2004 that actually went away as scheduled.” That thinking, of course, ignores the economic reality of depreciation.

Even our city’s business press — which ought to know better — writes headlines like Intrust Bank Arena tops $1.1M in net income for 2015 without mentioning depreciation expense or explaining the non-conforming accounting methods used to derive this number.

All of these examples are deficient in an important way: They contribute confusion to the search for truthful accounting of the arena’s finances. Recognizing depreciation expense is vital to understanding profit or loss, we’re not doing that.


Notes

  1. Management Agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG. August 1, 2007. Available here.
  2. Minutes of the Sedgwick County Commission, February 14, 2018.
  3. Management Agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG.
  4. Sedgwick County. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the County of Sedgwick, Kansas for the Year ended December 31, 2017. Available at https://www.sedgwickcounty.org/media/39501/2017-cafr.pdf.
  5. Ibid.

Sedgwick County’s David Dennis on economic development

Following the Wichita Mayor, the Chair of the Sedgwick County Commission speaks on economic development.

Last week Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis penned a column for the Wichita Eagle praising the county’s efforts in economic development. 1 Dennis is also chair of the commission this year.

In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”

This emphasis on the word “momentum” seems to be a fad among Wichita’s government leaders. More about this later.

Dennis also wrote: “Traditional governmental incentives are a thing of the past. There are no more blank checks from Sedgwick County for businesses.”

Except: The county participates in incentive programs that allow companies like Spirit to escape paying taxes, and when you don’t have to pay taxes, that’s the same economic effect as someone giving you cash to pay those taxes. Spirit Aerosystems will receive Industrial Revenue Bonds, which are not a loan of money to Spirit, but allow the company to avoid paying property taxes and sales taxes. 2 3 These incentives are a cost to the county and other units of government, and are as good as cash to Spirit. (For this and many other projects the county is not involved in the approval of the IRB program, but it doesn’t object, and it sees its tacit approval as part of its partnership with the City of Wichita.)

Besides this, the county engages in traditional incentives — almost like a blank check — but disguises them. In this case, for example, the county is contributing $7 million towards the construction of a building exclusively for Spirit’s use. How will the county pay for that? The memorandum that the county agreed to states: “The county participation of $7 million US is anticipated to be available cash.” 4

You might be wondering if the county is treating this contribution as an investment that a business would make, where it would earn back its investment plus a profit by collecting rent from Spirit. After all, county leaders tell us they want to operate government like a business.

But, you’d be wrong if you thought that. The memorandum specifies the rent as $1 per year. Not $1 per square foot per year, but $1 per year for the entire building. Furthermore, at the end of 20 years, Spirit will have the option to purchase the property for $1.

There’s really no way to characterize this transaction other than as a multi-million giveaway to Spirit. Not directly as a blank check or cash, but in a roundabout way that costs the county and benefits Spirit in the same way as cash.

I can understand how Dennis and others like Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell want to convince the public that they are no longer dishing out cash. Often, the public doesn’t like that. So instead they do the same thing in roundabout ways like leasing a building for $1 per year or paying millions in cash for a “parking easement” for which the city has no real use. 5 Chairman Dennis and others hope you won’t notice, but these leaders would be more credible if they didn’t try to obfuscate the truth.

Sedgwick County jobs. Click for larger.
Sedgwick County jobs, change from prior year. Click for larger.
At the end of his column, Dennis wrote: “There is a lot of momentum and forward movement in our community right now and I’m encouraged to see what we can achieve as a team.”

There’s that word again: momentum. Coincidently, shortly after this column was published, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published an update to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. It shows the number of jobs in Sedgwick County declining. This update was released after Dennis wrote his column, but as can be seen from the nearby charts, the slowdown in Sedgwick County jobs and the Wichita-area economy is not a new trend.

If Dennis really believes our economy has “momentum and forward movement,” it is my sincere hope that he is simply uninformed or misinformed about these statistics. Because if he is aware, we can only conclude that he is something else that is worse than being merely ignorant.


Notes

  1. David Dennis. Sedgwick County part of drive to strengthen area workforce. Wichita Eagle, March 5, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559734.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Spirit expands in Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/spirit-expands-wichita/.
  4. Sedgwick County. RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE EXECUTION OF A MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING WITH THE CITY OF WICHITA AND SPIRIT AEROSYSTEMS, INC. RELATING TO PROJECT ECLIPSE. Available at https://sedgwickcounty.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3290907&GUID=E732A9A2-C01A-4ACE-B134-C15E551F989F.
  5. Weeks, Bob. More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/cargill-incentives-from-wichita-detailed/.

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2016 is $4,293,901

As in years past, a truthful accounting of the finances of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita shows a large loss.

The true state of the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita are not often a subject of public discussion. Arena boosters cite a revenue-sharing arrangement between the county and the arena operator, referring to this as profit or loss. But this arrangement is not an accurate and complete accounting, and hides the true economics of the arena. What’s missing is depreciation expense.

An example: In February 2015 the Wichita Eagle reported: “The arena’s net income for 2014 came in at $122,853, all of which will go to SMG, the company that operates the facility under contract with the county, Assistant County Manager Ron Holt said Wednesday.” A reading of the minutes for the February 11 meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission finds Holt mentioning depreciation expense not a single time. Neither did the Eagle article.

In December 2014, in a look at the first five years of the arena, its manager told the Wichita Eagle this: “‘We know from a financial standpoint, the building has been successful. Every year, it’s always been in the black, and there are a lot of buildings that don’t have that, so it’s a great achievement,’ said A.J. Boleski, the arena’s general manager.”

The Wichita Eagle opinion page hasn’t been helpful, with Rhonda Holman opining with thoughts like this: “Though great news for taxpayers, that oversize check for $255,678 presented to Sedgwick County last week reflected Intrust Bank Arena’s past, specifically the county’s share of 2013 profits.”

Even our city’s business press — which ought to know better — writes headlines like Intrust Bank Arena tops $1.1M in net income for 2015 without mentioning depreciation expense.

All of these examples are deficient in an important way, and contribute confusion to the search for truthful accounting of the arena’s finances. As shown below, recognizing depreciation expense is vital to understanding profit or loss, and the “net income” referred to above doesn’t include this. In fact, the “net income” cited above isn’t anything that is recognized by standard accounting principles.

The problem with the reporting of Intrust Bank Arena profits

There are at least two ways of looking at the finance of the arena. Nearly all attention is given to the “profit” (or loss) earned by the arena for the county according to an operating agreement between the county and SMG, a company that operates the arena. 1

This agreement specifies a revenue sharing mechanism between the county and SMG. For 2106, the accounting method used in this agreement produced a profit of $680,268 to be split (not equally) between SMG and the county. The county’s share was $140,134. 2

While described as “profit” by many, this payment does not represent any sort of “profit” or “earnings” in the usual sense. In fact, the introductory letter that accompanies these calculations warns readers that these are “not intended to be a complete presentation of INTRUST Bank Arena’s financial position and results of operations in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.” 3

That bears repeating: This is not a reckoning of profit and loss in any recognized sense. It is simply an agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG as to how SMG is to be paid, and how the county participates.

A much better reckoning of the economics of the Intrust Bank Arena can be found in the 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Sedgwick County.4 This document holds additional information about the finances of the Intrust Bank Arena. The CAFR, as described by the county, “… is a review of what occurred financially last year. In that respect, it is a report card of our ability to manage our financial resources.”

Regarding the arena, the CAFR states:

The Arena Fund represents the activity of the INTRUST Bank Arena. The facility is operated by a private company; the County incurs expenses only for certain capital improvements or major repairs and depreciation, and receives as revenue only a share of profits earned by the operator, if any, and naming rights fees. The Arena Fund had an operating loss of $4.6 million. The loss can be attributed to $4.4 million in depreciation expense.

Financial statements in the same document show that $4,434,035 was charged for depreciation in 2016, bringing accumulated depreciation to a total of $35,126,958.

If we subtract SMG payment of $140,134 from depreciation expense, we learn that the Intrust Bank Arena lost $4,293,901 in 2016.

Depreciation expense is not something that is paid out in cash. That is, Sedgwick County did not write a check for $4,434,035 to pay depreciation expense. Instead, depreciation accounting provides a way to recognize and account for the cost of long-lived assets over their lifespan. It provides a way to recognize opportunity costs, that is, what could be done with our resources if not spent on the arena.

But not many of our public leaders recognize this. In years past, Commissioner Dave Unruh made remarks that illustrate the severe misunderstanding under which he and almost everyone labor regarding the nature of spending on the arena: “I want to underscore the fact that the citizens of Sedgwick County voted to pay for this facility in advance. And so not having debt service on it is just a huge benefit to our government and to the citizens, so we can go forward without having to having to worry about making those payments and still show positive cash flow. So it’s still a great benefit to our community and I’m still pleased with this report.”

Earlier in this article we saw examples of the (then) Sedgwick County Assistant Manager, the Intrust Bank Arena manager, and several Wichita Eagle writers making the same mistake.

Intrust Bank Arena commemorative monument
Intrust Bank Arena commemorative monument
The contention — witting or not — of all these people is that the capital investment of $183,625,241 (not including an operating and maintenance reserve) in the arena is merely a historical artifact, something that happened in the past, something that has no bearing today. There is no opportunity cost, according to this view. This attitude, however, disrespects the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to raise those funds. Since Kansas is one of the few states that adds sales tax to food, low-income households paid extra sales tax on their groceries to pay for the arena — an arena where they may not be able to afford tickets.

Any honest accounting or reckoning of the performance of Intrust Bank Arena must take depreciation into account. While Unruh is correct that depreciation expense is not a cash expense that affects cash flow, it is an economic reality that can’t be ignored — except by politicians, apparently. The Wichita Eagle and Wichita Business Journal aid in promoting this deception.

We see our governmental and civic leaders telling us that we must “run government like a business.” Without frank and realistic discussion of numbers like these and the economic facts they represent, we make decisions based on incomplete and false information.


Notes

  1. Management Agreement between Sedgwick County and SMG. August 1, 2007. Available here.
  2. The Operations of INTRUST Bank Arena, as Managed by SMG. December 31, 2016. Available here.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sedgwick County. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the County of Sedgwick, Kansas for the Year ended December 31, 2016. Available here.

For Sedgwick County Commission, too much debate

By moving to end motions and debate, the Sedgwick County Commission isn’t effectively serving citizens and taxpayers.

Yesterday’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission offered an opportunity to learn how we can improve local government.

The issue the commission was considering, significant in its own right, is not important to the following discussion. It’s the process that needs improvement.

There was a proposed ordinance. Commissioner Jim Howell offered two amendments — really substitute motions — that altered the proposed ordinance. Each failed by votes of three to two.

Howell had two more motions to offer. But Commissioner David Dennis moved a motion to end the offering of additional motions. In this vote the majority prevailed, and Howell was silenced. Commissioners voting to end debate were Chair Dave Unruh, Michael O’Donnell, and Dennis. Richard Ranzau and Howell opposed the motion to end debate.

The county commission is not a deliberative body like a legislature. The county does not have committees like a legislature. I’m not advocating for the county to form committees, but here’s what is missing from the county process: There is no opportunity for interested parties — often lobbyists, but also regular people — to testify before a committee as legislation is being developed. There is no committee mark-up process in which the text of a bill is crafted and finalized. There is no committee vote that decides whether to recommend the bill to the entire legislative body.

Some of this happens in Sedgwick County, of course, but mostly behind the scenes. There is the county staff meeting Tuesday morning, when the commissioners meet with staff in an informal setting. While this meeting is open to the public, there is rarely news coverage. (Hint to county staff: These meetings could easily be broadcast and archived on the internet without much cost or effort.)

In a legislature, when a bill is considered by the entire body, there is usually an amendment process. They may be many amendments that require time to debate and consider. This process was mentioned by two commission members who have served in the Kansas legislature.

But it seems a majority of Sedgwick County Commission members don’t care for this process.

I understand why some commissioners wanted to end debate. Sometimes amendments to legislation create a moment where legislators have to cast a vote on an issue, often a finely-grained issue. Sometimes that vote is used as a campaign issue in future elections. Those votes may appear in compilations of legislative activity that reveal how legislators vote.

But amendments and debate are part of the legislative process. Commissioner Howell had several amendments that he had prepared in advance. They were not off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment ideas. They were crafted to attempt to find a compromise that a majority of commissioners could accept.

But a majority of Sedgwick County Commission members didn’t want that.

Perhaps some commissioners where concerned about the meeting becoming lengthy. We see that from Wichita City Council members. They’re paid a part-time salary, so maybe there’s merit to their carping about long meetings.

But Howell’s amendments took just a few minutes each to consider. And — this is highly relevant — the members of the Sedgwick County Commission are paid a handsome full-time salary. They should not object to the meeting lasting all day, if that’s what it takes to serve the citizens. And citizens were not well-served by the commission’s decision to silence one of its members.

Sedgwick County to consider raising debt limit

Tomorrow the Sedgwick County Commission will consider raising its limit on borrowing for reasons which need to be revealed, and then carefully examined.

Update: By vote of three to two, the commission adopted the second item in the following list, implementing a higher debt limit.

There are three proposals for a policy regarding a debt limit for Sedgwick County government, according to information from the county’s finance office:

  • 2017 cap in current policy (debt service payments as % of budgeted expenditures): 9% = $126,341,621
  • 2017 cap included in March 22 agenda item (debt service payments as % of budgeted expenditures): 10% = $155,303,346
  • 2017 cap using Commissioner Howell’s comments from the bench on March 22 (% of assessed value): 3% = $135,944,585

The third option has intuitive appeal as it pegs the borrowing limit to the county’s primary source of income to pay debt, which is property tax. In any case, taxpayers might wonder why the county is considering any proposal to raise the amount it can borrow.

Why borrow more?

Personal correspondence from Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau last month explains the changes the Commission is scheduled to hear tomorrow:

In 2016, the Board of County Commissioners modified the debt policy by limiting the annual debt service obligations (the amount we pay in principal and interest on a yearly basis) to 9% of budgeted expenditures until January 1, 2019, at which time the maximum will decrease to 8%. The previous maximum had been 20% with the County’s annual debt service hovering around 10% of budgeted expenditures. The policy was amended in an effort to place meaningful yet reasonable limits out the County’s borrowing capacity so as to avoid unnecessary habitual borrowing and excessive spending on projects “just because we can.”

The County’s current annual debt service is 8.22% and will fall below 8% in 2018.

No reason or project has been given as to why this change is needed. The county currently has no plans to issue debt for anything in 2017.

A nearby table summarizes and compares the present policy with debt limits that would exist under the new policy, according to the Sedgwick County Financial Office. (There is an alternative interpretation of policy that if used, would limit borrowing in 2019 to $73,218,639.)

Ranzau’s correspondence says there have been no reasons given for the need to change the debt limit, and that there is no plan to issue debt in 2017.

But that’s the county’s public position. Internally, there is consideration of borrowing and bonding in 2017. Some is for projects already completed and paid for.

Borrowing against the Ronald Reagan Building at 271 W. Third St. is being considered in the amount of $4.0 million. That’s $2.1 million of renovations already completed, plus $1.9 million in planned renovations already paid for.

Borrowing against the Downtown Tag Office at 2525 W. Douglas is considered at $2.3 million. This project has been paid for.

Additionally, the county may borrow to pay for the new Law Enforcement Training Center, in the amount of $5.5 million. This building is under construction, but the county has already transferred cash to the capital improvement fund that is designated to pay for this building.

Why would these buildings — some paid for, another for which cash is already set aside — be under consideration for bond issues?

An analogy is in personal finance, where a family might — after many years — pay off the mortgage on their house. Or maybe they saved and purchased the house outright without borrowing.

But then, the family takes out a mortgage — a new loan — on the house to have additional money for current spending. And more current spending is likely what some Commission members have in mind, as there is no need to take out a mortgage on property owned free and clear unless one wants to spend on something else.

Further, there are more projects the county may consider starting in years through 2021, using borrowing through bonds as payment. These total to $59.4 million, which is within the $61.6 million of borrowing allowed just through 2019. (That limit rises each year.)

This seems to contradict the need for a higher debt limit.

Before approving a higher borrowing limit, Sedgwick County Commissioners need to explain the need for the higher limit, and let taxpayers know if they’re about to be saddled with new mortgages on properties we thought we owned outright.

Sedgwick County to consider raising debt limit

This week the Sedgwick County Commission will consider raising its limit on borrowing for reasons which need to be revealed, and then carefully examined.

Update: On Wednesday the Commission decided to defer this item to a future meeting, probably in April.

Personal correspondence from Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau explains the changes the Commission is scheduled to hear this Wednesday:

In 2016, the Board of County Commissioners modified the debt policy by limiting the annual debt service obligations (the amount we pay in principal and interest on a yearly basis) to 9% of budgeted expenditures until January 1, 2019, at which time the maximum will decrease to 8%. The previous maximum had been 20% with the County’s annual debt service hovering around 10% of budgeted expenditures. The policy was amended in an effort to place meaningful yet reasonable limits out the County’s borrowing capacity so as to avoid unnecessary habitual borrowing and excessive spending on projects “just because we can.”

The County’s current annual debt service is 8.22% and will fall below 8% in 2018.

No reason or project has been given as to why this change is needed. The county currently has no plans to issue debt for anything in 2017.

A nearby table summarizes and compares the present policy with debt limits that would exist under the new policy, according to the Sedgwick County Financial Office. (There is an alternative interpretation of policy that if used, would limit borrowing in 2019 to $73,218,639.)

Ranzau’s correspondence says there have been no reasons given for the need to change the debt limit, and that there is no plan to issue debt in 2017.

But that’s the county’s public position. Internally, there is consideration of borrowing and bonding in 2017. Some is for projects already completed and paid for.

Borrowing against the Ronald Reagan Building at 271 W. Third St. is being considered in the amount of $4.0 million. That’s $2.1 million of renovations already completed, plus $1.9 million in planned renovations already paid for.

Borrowing against the Downtown Tag Office at 2525 W. Douglas is considered at $2.3 million. This project has been paid for.

Additionally, the county may borrow to pay for the new Law Enforcement Training Center, in the amount of $5.5 million. This building is under construction, but the county has already transferred cash to the capital improvement fund that is designated to pay for this building.

Why would these buildings — some paid for, another for which cash is already set aside — be under consideration for bond issues?

An analogy is in personal finance, where a family might — after many years — pay off the mortgage on their house. Or maybe they saved and purchased the house outright without borrowing.

But then, the family takes out a mortgage — a new loan — on the house to have additional money for current spending. And more current spending is likely what some Commission members have in mind, as there is no need to take out a mortgage on property owned free and clear unless one wants to spend on something else.

Further, there are more projects the county may consider starting in years through 2021, using borrowing through bonds as payment. These total to $59.4 million, which is within the $61.6 million of borrowing allowed just through 2019. (That limit rises each year.)

This seems to contradict the need for a higher debt limit.

Before approving a higher borrowing limit, Sedgwick County Commissioners need to explain the need for the higher limit, and let taxpayers know if they’re about to be saddled with new mortgages on properties we thought we owned outright.

Sedgwick County may abolish scheduled tax decrease

The Sedgwick County Commission had scheduled a reduction in the property tax rate, but may abandon it.

Update: On Wednesday the Commission, by unanimous vote, disapproved the proposed ordinance, thereby leaving the scheduled reduction in place.

On March 23, 2016, the Sedgwick County Commission passed an ordinance, number 51-2016, which stated: “The maximum target for the mill levy to be assessed by Sedgwick County during its budgeting process for budget years 2017 — 2022 is 29.359 mills, and for budget years thereafter is 28.758, subject to requirements mandated by state law.” All commissioners voted in favor.

The resolution to be considered this week sets the maximum target for the mill levy at 29.359. Period. The language reducing the mill levy after 2022 is gone.

Does this count as a tax increase? People will have different perspectives on this.

But it is certain that if passed, this resolution abandons a plan to reduce taxes in the future.

Change in Wichita mill levy rates, year-to-year and cumulative. Click for larger version.
Of note: When formulating a budget each year, the Commission doesn’t set the mill levy by ordinance. Instead, the Commission decides to spend a certain amount. Then, based on the assessed value of taxable property in the county, the mill levy is calculated. The target established by the Commission is just that, a target. Without a strict target, the Sedgwick County might go the path of the City of Wichita, in which the mill levy drifts upward in many years, resulting in a large increase over time. See Wichita property tax rate: Level for the most recent figures.