This week, commissioners got their first official glimpse into the fiscal challenges ahead. Trust me, the next few years will be challenging but I have faith in the budget process. We will find a way to solve the shortfalls. Otherwise, we’d be about $55 million overspent by the end of 2026.
Alongside that bleak fiscal forecast came some encouraging information about our history. In virtually every fiscal measurement, Sedgwick County can say we are doing more with less. We have worked to become more efficient and more effective. The challenge will be how we sustain this high bar.
Here are a few benchmarks to chew on: The county’s debt per capita is currently $156 which is very low for a municipality our size. Our mill levy is actually 6.2% lower than it was 13 years ago. Over that same time frame, the county population increased about 6.2% and personal income increased 32.7%, which is almost twice the rate of inflation. Since 2008, inflation added 22.4% to the cost of living, the overall assessed value of the county grew by 26.4%, and property tax revenues for county government increased 18.5%. That means the county chose to forgo 7.9% of the revenue that would have been captured had we just kept the old mill levy.
What do you get for your hard-earned property tax money? The county funds the courts, jail, Corrections, Sheriff’s Office, Election’s Office, county fire, 911, Emergency Management, COMCARE (behavioral/mental health), the Health Department, and so much more. We subsidize WSU, the Zoo, senior centers, and improvements like the Kellogg/I-235 interchange and the ongoing North Junction project. We have more than 600 miles of county roads and 600 bridges to maintain.
One of the most interesting benchmarks is called the “Price of Government.” Supposedly, the target PoG for county government should be about 1% of the community’s personal income. That means the community will spend (on average) 1 penny out of every dollar for the infrastructure and services the county provides. Back in 2009, the PoG for Sedgwick County was exactly 1%. Today, the PoG has dropped to 0.85% which is 17.6% lower than it was in 2009.
The good news is, despite what many critics think, when you really take a look at the numbers, we can conclude that Sedgwick County has done a pretty good job. Do you agree? Let me know what you think at jim.Howell@sedgwick.gov.