Who's In First (And Third, And Sixth)?: Why Wichita City Council Representatives Matter

Nov 6, 2017

It might be considered common knowledge now that three seats on the city council—in Districts 1, 3 and 6--are on the ballot in Tuesday’s general election. But what might be less clear is why it matters who represents us. The positions are non-partisan, so sweeping policy changes aren't likely after any election, but there could be as many as three new faces on the council next year, depending on how the races go.

Here, a look at just a few of city council’s duties, and how they have a role in Wichitans' lives:

Holding the purse strings

Did your stormwater rate go up this year? That was the council’s decision.

“I’m sure that people understand that we manage the city’s financial operations,” says outgoing City Councilwoman Lavonta Williams.

Credit wichita.gov

The council is responsible for balancing the city’s $590 million dollar operating budget, and a 10-year, $1.8 billion Capital Improvement Program. That means deciding where funding priorities are, and how the budget get funded.

The city gets about 20 percent of its revenues from property taxes and 10 percent from sales taxes; about half comes in from service charges.

Setting local ordinances

City Council members also set and enforce local ordinances—everything from misdemeanor crimes to plumbing codes to animal control.

“When I first came in, we were looking at smoking ordinances,” Williams says.

In recent years, the council has created ordinances dealing with Biking Under the Influence charges, food trucks, nuisance properties, and marijuana possession penalties.

Advocating for their districts

Council members protect the welfare of the entire city, Williams says, and the people who live it and around it.

“But there are also going to come those times that we’re going to have to look at each individual district,” she says. “And that’s where you need to be thinking about who is going to be the leader in that particular district.”

Council members make decisions that affect the entire city, but they’re also advocates for their own constituents-- for example, getting funding from the sale of the Hyatt Hotel for projects in each district.

Williams says you need to vote in order to have a say on the council.

“You’re leaving your message,” she says. “You’re saying that 'I want this person to represent me.' When you don’t vote, you’re basically giving yourself no voice.”

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