By George Lawson
A new coalition has been created by Wichita business leaders along with police and fire union officials, and they want to begin a community dialogue to address staff shortages and budget cuts that have affected public safety.
The coalition was announced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. The group is proposing a quarter-of-a-cent sales tax that would raise about $20 million a year to meet budget needs of the police and fire departments. They want to get a sales tax proposal on the November election ballot.
Jason Van Sickle, president of the Wichita Downtown Neighborhood Alliance, said he has had discussions with people in the community about downtown economic development and that led to discussions and concerns about safety and increased crime activity. He said over the past ten years, funding for the police and fire departments has continued to shrink and they have had to deal with staff cuts at a time when the city is seeing economic growth.
Robert Schmeidler, president of the Wichita Fraternal Order of Police, said the city has reached a critical point where it can't adequately meet the needs of the city without additional officers and resources. He said the city has reached its maximum capacity on being able to handle calls.
Matt Schulte, president of local 135 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said more firefighters and resources will be needed to keep up with the changing demands of a growing city.
Van Sickle said the next step is to meet with police and fire department leaders and talk about budgets, and then approach the city council about putting the issue on the ballot. There will also be a series of community meetings with business leaders and neighborhood associations. The coalition will also have a web site at wichitapublicsafety.com