Aging budget draws debate

By The Active Age | August 1, 2022

Spending by Sedgwick County’s Department on Aging won’t keep up with the current level of inflation under a proposed budget for 2023.

The department, which is the primary provider of senior-related services in Wichita and the rest of the county, would see its budget rise 3.2 percent to $13.95 million next year.

Commissioners David Dennis and Pete Meitzner said the overall county budget addresses their three biggest priorities — employee compensation, public safety and behavioral health issues. All employees would receive at least an 8 percent raise starting Jan. 1, the county would increase funding for substance abuse and juvenile mental health services, and law enforcement spending would remain by far the single biggest area of expenditures.

Dennis, who chairs the commission, said the budget includes “almost $14 million for aging, which is quite a little bit of money.”

He noted that the proposed budget does not call for an increase in the property tax rate. “That impacts seniors probably more than anybody.”

Commissioner Jim Howell said he doesn’t support the budget in its current form, partly because of inadequate funding of the aging department. 

Commissioners Sarah Lopez and Lacey Cruse did not respond to requests for comment.

The aging department’s budget has sparked controversy in recent years. Although voters overwhelmingly approved up to 1 mill in property taxes for senior-related services, commissioners have gradually lowered that rate, in effect leaving millions of dollars on the table each year. In the proposed 2023 budget, it’s set at .371 mill, it lowest level ever. 

The aging department distributes some of the mill levy funds to senior centers, nutrition programs and other providers of senior-related services. But critis say the department is not consulting the county’s Advisory Council on Aging and Disabilities, as is required, when decding where the money will go.