This article was originally published by the Wichita Business Journal newspaper on May 10, 2018

Longwell: Sales tax hike not 'right source of revenue' for public safety funding

By Bryan Horwath

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says a group that went public this week with a plan to raise the city's sales tax to fund cops and firefighters might have been premature with its announcement.

A group calling itself the Wichita Community Safety Coalition, led by local real estate developer Jason Van Sickle, hosted a news conference Tuesday to build public support for a sales tax increase that would help fund the city's police and fire departments.

The group, which includes local police and firefighter union leaders and has framed the issue as a public safety and business growth initiative, says Wichita needs about $20 million in additional funding for both departments.

"We're already looking at the budget and how we can move monies over," Longwell said Thursday at his weekly news briefing. "These folks obviously didn't sit down and talk to us about whether there's a lack of funding at this point. We're already looking at moving resources."

"I think they might have been premature in trying to go out to the public and ask for dollars that we're not sure that we need allocated for this particular use."

Longwell doesn't personally believe that public safety efforts should be funded through an avenue like a sales tax increase. He also said city officials had no knowledge of the group's intentions to go public.

"Public safety is our top priority," Longwell said. "We'll figure out a way to make sure we're putting the resources in. I just don't believe that would be the right source of revenue. I don't believe we should separate revenue streams with the caveat that we're going to fund public safety, but, if you really want extra public safety, you have to pay extra."

In an email sent out to supporters and others on Wednesday, Van Sickle said reiterated that the group is calling for a 0.25 percent city sales tax hike, something that likely would need to be approved by voters to become a reality. The group says the money would go to things like improved "facilities, equipment, personnel, and training," according to the email.

Van Sickle added that the group plans to organize a number of meetings with business leaders, neighborhood organizations and community groups in the coming weeks.