Category Archives: Sedgwick county government

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.

Sedgwick County economic freedom accountability index

A new initiative to provide residents of Sedgwick County with more information about their elected county commissioners.

Indexes of voting behavior are common at the national and state levels. These indexes let voters examine how elected representatives have actually voted, rather than having to rely on their rhetoric and campaign promises. Indexes also provide a useful institutional memory.

Based on my experience on producing the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for several years — a service now provided by Kansas Policy Institute — Sedgwick County will have such an index.

It’s a timely launch, as this week Sedgwick County commissioners will consider a matter that merits inclusion in this index. The item, if passed, will restart the Sedgwick County Health Department’s travel immunizations program. More information from the county commission is available here.

Some of the criteria to be considered in building the index include these, in draft form:

  • Increasing or reducing the overall tax burden.
  • Expanding or contracting agencies, programs, or functions of government.
  • Expanding or reducing government’s power to regulate free market activity.
  • Expanding or reducing government’s role in health care.
  • Improving or harming the environment for economic growth and job creation.
  • Expanding or reducing individual property rights.
  • Protecting the integrity of elections.
  • Rewarding or harming specific individuals, business firms, industries, organizations, or special interest groups.
  • Creating or eliminating functions that can be performed by the private sector.
  • Increasing or decreasing long-term debt.
  • Increasing or decreasing government transparency and open records.
  • Using government funds for political purposes.
  • Encouraging or discouraging citizen participation in government and decision-making.

Why is economic freedom important? Here’s what Milton Friedman had to say in the opening chapter of his monumental work Capitalism and Freedom:

The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom

It is widely believed that politics and economics are separate and largely unconnected; that individual freedom is a political problem and material welfare an economic problem; and that any kind of political arrangements can be combined with any kind of economic arrangements. The chief contemporary manifestation of this idea is the advocacy of “democratic socialism” by many who condemn out of hand the restrictions on individual freedom imposed by “totalitarian socialism” in Russia, and who are persuaded that it is possible for a country to adopt the essential features of Russian economic arrangements and yet to ensure individual freedom through political arrangements. The thesis of this chapter is that such a view is a delusion, that there is an intimate connection between economics and politics, that only certain arrangements are possible and that, in particular, a society which is socialist cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom.

Economic arrangements play a dual role in the promotion of a free society. On the one hand, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself. In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom.

In Sedgwick County, Norton’s misplaced concern for an industry

In the campaign for Sedgwick County Commission, the incumbent Tim Norton touts his experience, judgment, “intellectual stamina, thirst for data and feedback,” and his efforts in economic development. Following, from January 2013, an example of how uninformed he is regarding basic facts about the Kansas economy.

In Sedgwick County, Norton’s misplaced concern for an industry

kansas-gdp-by-industry-for-2010Expressing concern about a large industry that he said is important to Sedgwick County and Kansas, Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton spoke in favor of the need for comprehensive government planning. He cited the commonly-held belief that humans, with their desire for large suburban home lots, are depleting the stock of available farmland.

Specifically, Norton said “Agribusiness is the third largest economic driver in our community, in our region.”

But is this true? Using 2010 figures from the Kansas Statistical Abstract, these are the largest industries in Kansas in terms of gross domestic product:

Agriculture ranks below many other industries, contributing 3.7 percent of Kansas Gross Domestic Product. In most years agriculture would rank even lower, but because of high farm prices in recent years, it ranks higher than it has.

Norton also expressed concern that humans with large home lots would deplete the land available for agriculture. But he need not worry, as I show in Saving farms from people.

Tim Norton: Saving farms from people and their preferences

In the campaign for Sedgwick County Commission, the incumbent Tim Norton touts his experience, judgment, “intellectual stamina, thirst for data and feedback,” and his efforts in economic development. Following, from January 2013, an example of how uninformed he is. You also see his preference for government regulation over economic and personal freedom.

Tim Norton: Saving farms from people and their preferences

Last week at a meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, Commissioner Tim Norton spoke in favor of the need for comprehensive government planning. In support, he cited the commonly-held belief that humans — especially with their desire for large suburban home lots — are depleting the stock of farmland to the point of being detrimental to agribusiness.

Here’s part of what Norton said (video below):

Now I know people don’t like the idea of sprawl and growth rings and all that, but the truth is there is a balance between where people live and preserving our good agricultural lands and how do you make that work. And that’s being able to sustain part of our economy. Agribusiness is the third largest economic driver in our community, in our region, and to say that we’re okay with every five acre tract being taken up by somebody’s rural residence sounds really good if you’re talking only property rights. But if you’re talking about preserving and sustaining agribusiness you gotta have the land and it’s got to be set aside for that enterprise.

Farms and ranches being driven out of existence by homeowners — that sounds like a problem that might threaten our food supply. But what are the facts?

First, there is an overabundance of farmland in America. There is so much farmland that we pay farmers billions each year to refrain from planting crops. We pay corn farmers billions in subsidies each year and then use their crops for motor fuel, instead of for making fine Kentucky bourbon and taco shells, as God intended.

Considering Sedgwick County, as that is what Norton represents: Despite being the second-most populous county in Kansas and home to its largest city and surrounding suburban communities, Sedgwick County ranks fourth among Kansas counties in the number of farms, thirty-fourth in farmland acres, seventh in total harvested cropland acres, thirty-third in market value of harvested crops, sixty-sixth in market value of livestock, and eighty-seventh in pasture acres. (Data from Kansas Farm Facts 2011, reporting on 2007 farm statistics.)

There’s something else that might ease Commissioner Norton’s concern, if he would only believe in the power of markets over government: That is the price system. If we were truly running short of farmland, crop prices would rise and farmland would become more valuable. Fewer people would be willing to pay the price necessary to have a five-acre home lot.

In fact, if crop prices were high enough, farmers would be buying back the five-acre lots, or perhaps paying homeowners to rent their yards for planting crops or grazing livestock.

In either case, markets — through the price system — provide a solution that doesn’t require politicians and bureaucrats. There are many other areas in which this is true, but government nonetheless insists on regulation and control.

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2015 is $4.1 million

The depreciation expense of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita recognizes and accounts for the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to pay for the arena.

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.

There hasn’t been much talk of the arena’s finances this year. But 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.

Payments by Intrust Bank Arena to Sedgwick County, tableIn 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.”

I didn’t notice the Eagle opinion page editorializing this year on the release of the arena’s profitability figures. So here’s an example of incomplete editorializing from Rhonda Holman, who opined “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.” (Earlier reporting on this topic in the Eagle in 2013 did not mention depreciation expense, either.)

All of these examples are deficient in some way, and contribute only 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. Most 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 2105, the accounting method used in this agreement produced a profit of $1,150,206, to be split (not equally) between SMG and the county. The county’s share was $375,103.

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 and are not intended to be a presentation in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.”2

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 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Sedgwick County.3 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 $4.1 million. The loss can be attributed to $4.4 million in depreciation expense.

Financial statements in the same document show that $4,443,603 was charged for depreciation in 2015, bringing accumulated depreciation to a total of $30,791,307.

Depreciation expense is not something that is paid out in cash. Sedgwick County didn’t write a check for $4,443,603 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 show the severe misunderstanding that he and almost everyone labor under regarding the nature of the 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 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 fact that can’t be ignored — except by politicians, apparently. The Wichita Eagle aids 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, 2015. Available here.
  3. Sedgwick County. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the County of Sedgwick, Kansas for the Year ended December 31, 2015. Available here.

Sedgwick County delinquent tax list for 2015

Here is the delinquent property tax list for Sedgwick County for 2015, summarized and presented in an interactive table that you may sort.

Of note, the two property owners with the largest delinquent balances are the City of Wichita and the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

Inquiry to the City of Wichita reveals that two properties, 3239 E 1st and 3244 E Douglas ($72,282.69 and $47,878.37), are left over from a real estate developer’s default. He, not the city, was responsible for these taxes. A third property is a leased property related to the East Kellogg expansion, and the tenant is responsible for the taxes. For another property, the taxes were paid late, and another was an error that has been corrected.

The Sedgwick County Treasurer issues this caution:

Public notice is hereby given that taxes on Personal Property located in Sedgwick County, State of Kansas, is unpaid, in whole or in part, and here appears the name of each delinquent taxpayer followed by his/her last known address and the total amount of unpaid taxes, penalties and costs.

Some of the names listed may have already paid their personal property taxes or may be awaiting results of a tax grievance or tax protest before paying the taxes due. Unfortunately, it is not practical to delete these names.

I regret any undue embarrassment this may cause those who are still awaiting tax protest decisions.

Linda Kizzire
Sedgwick County Treasurer

Click here to access this data.

Sedgwick County Health Department: Services provided

Sedgwick County government trimmed spending on health. What has been the result so far?

During last year’s Sedgwick County budget hearings, there were warnings that trimming spending on health would decimate the health department’s ability to provide services. But after six months, that hasn’t been the case.

Sedgwick County Health Department services provided. Click for larger.
Sedgwick County Health Department services provided. Click for larger.

The nearby table shows measures of services provided for the first six months of this year compared to the same period the year before. The source of this data is the Sedgwick County Health Department, with my added column calculating the percent change. For most categories of service, the amount provided has risen or fallen slightly. The exception is WIC, the Women, Infants, and Children program. Participation in this program has fallen in Sedgwick County every year since peaking in 2010, mirroring the national trend.1

Average Monthly WIC Participation per 1,000 population, Sedgwick County


Notes

  1. KansasHealthMatters.org. Average Monthly WIC Participation per 1,000 population. Available here.

In Sedgwick County, special interest politics on display

Campaign finance reports reveal special interest groups working to elect candidates. Their efforts to mold a candidate’s thinking appear to be working.

Why do people make political campaign contributions? I try to be optimistic. I’m willing to believe that people have sincerely-held beliefs.

But when you look under the covers, I find myself in agreement with Lily Tomlin, who quipped “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

A few days ago I showed how the campaign finance report for David Dennis, a candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, was full of contributions from people who regularly ask government for special favors and subsidy, people who campaigned for the Wichita city sales tax, and Democrats who are ideologically presupposed to higher taxes.1 In other words, people who believe they know better than you how to spend your money, and believe David Dennis will give them more to spend.

But I didn’t go far enough. The Wichita Eagle’s Daniel Salazar found this: “He [Dennis] received at least $4,814 in direct donations from board members of the Sedgwick County Zoological Society.”2

This is classic and explicit special interest group behavior. The group members contribute a little bit to a candidate in expectation of reaping big benefits for their special interest.

Economists call this rent seeking, defined as “An attempt to obtain economic rent (i.e., the portion of income paid to a factor of production in excess of what is needed to keep it employed in its current use) by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth.”3 That obscure term has been partially supplanted by a term more readily understood: cronyism.

And it appears to be working. Salazar’s article quotes Dennis: “I don’t think it’s (funding) adequate based on what I’ve learned. I think we’re going to have to do a complete review of what’s required to run the zoo.”4

There it is. I wonder who David Dennis consulted for his research?


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. A look at a David Dennis campaign finance report. Available at wichitaliberty.org/sedgwick-county-government/look-david-dennis-campaign-finance-report/.
  2. Salazar, Daniel. Dennis draws more donations than Peterjohn, including from zoo board members. Wichita Eagle, July 27, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article92135002.html.
  3. Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent-seeking
  4. ibid.

A look at a David Dennis campaign finance report

It’s interesting to look at campaign finance reports. Following, a few highlights on a report from the David Dennis campaign. He’s a candidate for Sedgwick County Commission in the August Republican Party primary election. The report was filed July 25, 2016, covering the period from January 1, 2016 through July 21, 2016. These reports are available online at the Sedgwick County Election Office website.

Keith Stevens, $200
A longtime Democrat community activist, always on the side of higher taxes and more government spending.

Suzanne F. Ahlstrand, $250
Gary & Cathy Schmitt, $100
Jon E. Rosell, $100
Charlie Chandler, Maria Chandler, $1,000 total
Al and Judy Higdon, $500
James & Vera Bothner, $250
Lyndon O. & Marty Wells, $500
All are, or have been, affiliated with the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce in various roles, including paid staff and leadership. At one time local chambers of commerce were dedicated to pro-growth economic policies and free markets. But no longer. The Wichita Chamber regularly advocates for more taxes (the 2014 Wichita sales tax campaign was run by the Wichita Chamber), more spending, more cronyism, and less economic freedom. It campaigns against fiscally conservative candidates when the alternative is a candidate in favor of more taxes. The Chamber says it does all this in the name of providing jobs in Wichita. If you’re wondering who ground down the Wichita economy over the past few decades, look no further than the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates who have run Wichita’s economic development bureaucracy.

Harvey Sorensen, $500
Sorensen was one of the drivers behind the 2014 one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax proposal, serving as co-chair of Yes Wichita, the primary group campaigning for the tax. In a public forum Sorensen said, “Koch Industries is going to spend a million dollars to try to kill the future of our community.”1 Wichita voters rejected that sales tax, with 62 percent of voters voting “No.”2 Since the election, we’ve learned that we can satisfy our water future needs by spending much less than Sorensen recommended, at least $100 million less.3 Part of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce cabal, Sorensen has played both sides of the street, having donated $500 to Jeff Longwell and the same amount to his opponent Sam Williams in the 2015 Wichita mayoral election. We might be led to wonder if Sorenson makes contributions based on sincerely held beliefs regarding public policy, or simply for access to officeholders.

Jon, Lauren, David, and Barbara Rolph, $2,000 total
Jon Rolph was another co-chair of Yes Wichita, the primary group campaigning for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax. Since then he’s floated the idea of trying again for a city sales tax.

Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union No. 441 Political Action Committee, $500
Labor unions rarely — very rarely — make campaign contributions to Republicans. Except for David Dennis.

Bryan K & Sheila R Frye, $50
Bryan Frye is a newly-elected Wichita City Council member who has quickly found a home among the other big-taxing, big-spending council members. He’d very much like a county commissioner who is compliant with more taxes and more spending — like David Dennis.

Lynn W. & Kristine L. Rogers, $50
Lynn Rogers is a Republican-turned-Democrat. As a member of the Wichita public schools board, he is an advocate for more school spending, less school accountability, and no school choice.

Alan J. & Sharon K. Fearey, $100
A Democrat, Sharon Fearey served two terms on the Wichita City Council. She was always an advocate for more taxes and spending, even scolding the Wichita Eagle when it thwarted her spending plans.

Foley Equipment, $500
Ann Konecny, $500
Foley was an advocate for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax, contributing $5,000 to the campaign. The next year, Foley asked for an exemption from property taxes and the sales tax that it campaigned for.4 Foley wanted poor people in Wichita to pay more sales tax on groceries, but didn’t want to pay that same sales tax itself.

BF Wichita, L.L.C., $500
A company affiliated with George Laham. He’s a partner in the taxpayer-subsidized River Vista Apartment project on the west bank of the Arkansas River north of Douglas Avenue. Rumor is that the apartment project will be abandoned in favor of selling the land as the site for an office building.

Automation Plus, $500
Sheryl Wohlford, Vice President, is a longtime progressive activist, a member of Wichita Downtown Vision Team. In short, someone who knows how to spend your money better than you.

Steven E. Cox, Janis E. Cox, $1,000 total
Owners of Cox Machine, this company regularly applies for and receives taxpayer-funded incentives, including the forgiveness of paying sales tax. Yet, this company contributed $2,000 to the campaign for the 2014 Wichita city sales tax.

Leon or Karen Lungwitz, $500
Owner of company where Wichita mayor Jeff Longwell once worked.

Slawson Commercial Properties, LLC, $500
Socora Homes, Inc., $500
New Market 1, LLC, $500
Buildings 22-23-24, LLC, $500
All are Slawson companies, advocates of and beneficiaries of taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Carl & Cathy Brewer, $200
The Democrat former mayor of Wichita. Enough said about that.

Tom Winters, $250
Winters is emblematic of the big-taxing, big-spending Republican officeholder who believes he knows how to spend your money better than you. Karl Peterjohn defeated Winters in the August 2008 primary election.

Timothy R. Austin, $150
We might label Austin as “engineer for the cronies” based on his frequent appearances before governmental bodies advocating for taxpayer-funded subsidy for his clients.


Notes

  1. Ryan, Kelsey. Comment on Koch involvement in sales tax heats up debate. Wichita Eagle, October 29, 2014. Available at www.kansas.com/news/local/article3456024.html.
  2. Sedgwick County Election Office. November 4th, 2014 General Election Official Results — Sedgwick County. Available at www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election_results/Gen14/index.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-phased-approach-water-supply-can-save-bundle/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, campaigning for a tax, then asking for exemption from paying. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/campaigning-for-tax-then-asking-for-exemption-from-paying/.

Sedgwick County Health Department: Services provided

Sedgwick County government trimmed spending on health. What has been the result so far?

There is an update to this article; see here.

During last year’s Sedgwick County budget hearings, there were warnings that trimming spending on health would decimate the health department’s ability to provide services. But after six months, that hasn’t been the case.

Sedgwick County Health Department Services Provided 2016-07

The nearby table shows measures of services provided for the first six months of this year compared to the same period the year before. The source of this data is the Sedgwick County Health Department, with my added column calculating the percent change. For most categories of service, the amount provided has risen or fallen slightly. The exception is WIC, the Women, Infants, and Children program. Participation in this program has fallen in Sedgwick County every year since peaking in 2010, mirroring the national trend.1

Average Monthly WIC Participation per 1,000 population, Sedgwick County


Notes

  1. KansasHealthMatters.org. Average Monthly WIC Participation per 1,000 population. Available here.

A David Dennis half-truth

Why would a candidate split sentences in order to create an untruthful claim about his opponent?

In a Facebook post on the David Dennis campaign page, this claim is presented regarding Karl Peterjohn: “Claims to be anti-tax yet calls for RAISING sales taxes.”1

David Dennis for Sedgwick County Commission, District 3 Facebook post
David Dennis for Sedgwick County Commission, District 3 Facebook post
For many years Karl Peterjohn has been calling for a raise in the county sales tax, yes. That’s the first part of the plan. The second part of the plan is to eliminate the county property tax.

Peterjohn headline sales tax 2014-06-07These two parts of the plan are so closely intertwined, so closely dependent on each other, that usually they appear in the same sentence, as in a Wichita Eagle op-ed: “Currently, the county imposes a 29.3 mill property tax countywide. This mill levy could be eliminated with about a 1.5-cent increase in the sales tax on a revenue-neutral basis.” 2

Why would a candidate split sentences in order to create an untruthful claim about his opponent? You’ll have to ask David Dennis.

  1. David Dennis for Sedgwick County Commission, District 3. Facebook. July 22, 2016. Available at www.facebook.com/vote4daviddennis/photos/a.885503861595816.1073741830.874272696052266/922554071224128/.
  2. Peterjohn, Karl. Swap sales tax for county property tax. Wichita Eagle, Jun3 7, 2014. Available here www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article1145426.html.

David Dennis, gleeful regulatory revisionist

David Dennis, candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, rewrites his history of service on the Kansas State Board of Education.

In 2012 the Lawrence Journal-World reported this regarding a meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education: “Board chairman David Dennis of Wichita said the state needs more information on home schools to ensure that children are being taught. … Dennis suggested perhaps the board should propose legislation to increase the state reporting requirements for home schoolers.”1 Other newspapers published similar reports.

Now, Dennis is a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission. At a candidate forum held by the Wichita Pachyderm Club on June 10, I asked Dennis about regulation of homeschools. Was that representative of his stance towards homeschooling and regulation?

In his response, Dennis said the board never sent a recommendation to the Legislature. But that wasn’t the question that I asked. Here is a transcription of my question.

“This week the Wichita Eagle reported that as part of the effort to retain Cargill in Wichita that the City of Wichita will appoint an ombudsman to help shepherd Cargill through the labyrinth is the word they use of business processes and regulations in Wichita. Which seems to me to be tantamount that regulation in Wichita is burdensome. So for all candidates, I would ask, how do you feel about that? What can you do to streamline regulation? And for you, Mr. Dennis, I’m particularly concerned because as a member of the State Board of Education you proposed that the board recommend the Kansas Legislature pass regulations regarding the performance of home schools. So I’m wondering if that’s indicative of your philosophy toward a free market in education and regulation in general.”

In his response to this question, Dennis made a point of “correcting me,” contending that the Kansas State Board of Education never sent such a recommendation to the Legislature. He said it again for emphasis, thereby “correcting” me twice.

Initially, I was confused by his answer. I thought perhaps I had misstated the premise of my question. But after listening to the recording, I realized that I asked the question precisely as I had intended. I said that Dennis proposed that the board recommend regulation to the Legislature, not that the board actually made such a proposal to the Legislature.

Perhaps, I thought, David Dennis didn’t hear my question correctly. So I followed up by email, including a link to an audio recording of the exchange, the same recording that appears at the end of this article. He stood by his response.

I don’t like calling anyone a liar. I’m willing to allow that people misspoke, or didn’t understand the question, or had an episode of faulty recollection, or that they changed their position over time. So maybe this episode doesn’t represent David Dennis lying. Perhaps three newspaper reporters incorrectly reported what Dennis said during the board of education meeting.2 3

But David Dennis was gleeful in “correcting” me in public. Twice. And in a forum where debating the speakers is not part of the culture.

Maybe Dennis’s response wasn’t a lie. But it was deceptive. It was evasive. It was characteristic of someone who is supremely confident in himself, even when he is wrong.

Perhaps this confidence is useful when serving as a military officer, as Dennis did. But it isn’t evidence of humility, and that’s something we need in our public servants.

Following is an excerpt from the candidate forum containing my question and the response from the candidates. A recording of the entire meeting as available at From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates. The participating candidates were Dennis and his opponent Karl Peterjohn in district 3, and Michael O’Donnell, the Republican candidate in district 2. (Only Republican candidates were invited.)


Notes

  1. Rothschild, Scott. State board discusses home-schooling requirements. Lawrence Journal-World, August 14, 2012. Available at www2.ljworld.com/news/2012/aug/14/state-board-discusses-home-schooling-requirements/.
  2. Associated press in Topeka Capital-Journal. Kansas education board looks into home schooling concerns. August 14, 2012. Available at cjonline.com/news/2012-08-15/kansas-education-board-looks-home-schooling-concerns.
  3. Tobias, Suzanne Perez. Kansas education official’s comment riles home-schooling parents. Wichita Eagle, August 18, 2012. Available at www.kansas.com/news/article1097490.html.

From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates

Voice for Liberty radio logo square 02 155x116From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: A forum featuring Republican primary election candidates for Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. This is an audio recording made on June 10, 2016.

In District 2 the candidate is Michael O’Donnell. In District 3 the candidates are Karl Peterjohn and David Dennis.

Sedgwick County Zoo

Since funding for and management of the Sedgwick County Zoo is in the news, here are some articles showing how generous the county has been with funding.

Sedgwick County Zoo funding

The Sedgwick County Commission has been generous with zoo funding, spending far more than agreed upon and granting a moratorium on loan payments and interest.

Sedgwick County Zoo funding from the county, planned and actual. Click for larger.
Sedgwick County Zoo funding from the county, planned and actual. Click for larger.
In September 2013 the Sedgwick County Commission agreed on a new funding plan with the Sedgwick County Zoo for years 2014 through 2018. For 2016 the recommended budget calls for keeping funding the same as the 2015 level instead of a 6.9 percent increase as indicated by the 2013 plan.

That’s the plan. What actually happened is quite different.

In September 2014 the commission voted to give the zoo $5.3 million to help pay for a new elephant exhibit. This contribution was not in any funding agreement, and the money was paid in January 2015. This extra funding is almost as large as the planned funding for 2015, which was about $5.6 million.

July 28, 2015. Click here for the full article.

For Sedgwick County Zoo, a moratorium on its commitment

As the Sedgwick County Zoo and its supporters criticize commissioners for failing to honor commitments, the Zoo is enjoying a deferral of loan payments and a break from accumulating interest charges.

What happened? The county loaned the zoo money to build a restaurant. But the zoo was not able to make the payments as agreed. So the county deferred the payments. I’ll be surprised if the zoo makes any payments after the deferral period ends.

July 28, 2015. Click here for the full article.

Cost of restoring quality of life spending cuts in Sedgwick County: 43 deaths

An analysis of public health spending in Sedgwick County illuminates the consequences of public spending decisions. In particular, those calling for more spending on zoos and arts must consider the lives that could be saved by diverting this spending to public health, according to analysis from Kansas Health Institute.

August 11, 2015. Click here for the full article.