Three of five Sedgwick County Commission districts are being contested in this fall’s election. The Active Age asked each candidate to answer the following questions in 100 words or less:
1. Do you think the county’s current spending on senior-related services is adequate, and if not, what do you propose to do about it?
2. Do you think the Department of Aging’s current budget is the best way to use those funds, and if not, how would you change it?
3. What in your record suggests you are the best candidate to serve seniors?
4. Please list your overall top three priorities:
Elected Democratic Precinct Committeewoman for Precinct 104 in August 2022
1. According to the 2022 budget, there has been a significant decrease in grant funding for the Aging Department, causing the overall budget to be lower than 2021. I am not aware of an explanation for that reduction, however one of my campaign ideas is to create a dedicated grants department to seek and maintain grants county-wide. With implementation of a program like this, grant funds can more easily be secured and replaced when grants are not renewed.
2. The largest expenditure for the Aging budget is Case Management, which I do think is appropriate. More could be allocated to in-home services, and homemaker/personal care programs. The priorities of the funding being allocated appear to be in order, but more funding is needed. This funding could easily come without raising taxes by creating a grants department to secure and maintain grant funding.
3. I have worked at Sedgwick County Government previously and worked on the Sedgwick County Budget. I am the best candidate to ask hard questions and ensure that service to seniors is a top priority. On a personal level, I have donated and volunteered to help seniors, and I included my kids in this endeavor. One year, we made hand-made Christmas cards for all residents of a senior living center. Residents enjoyed when we delivered them personally and we enjoyed giving back in this way. It is important to improve the quality of life and services for our seniors.
4. My top priorities are to increase revenues county-wide, focus on mental health care improvements, and ensure that our public safety employees have everything they need to do their jobs. I am committed to ensuring that there is adequate funding for human services efforts, such as Aging services. Human services, when funded adequately, increase quality of life community-wide. This funding can be accomplished by establishing a grants department that solely focuses on securing and maintaining grant funding.
Pete Meitzner, Wichita
Sedgwick County Commissioner since 2019; Wichita City Council for 7 years.
1. This year, the County will spend about $13 million on all the aging services in Sedgwick County. Sure, more could be spent on aging, as we try to balance all the departments in Sedgwick County that provide services to all citizens. Thankfully, the federal government has stepped up its support of aging programs. We are facing years of large deficits, which will either require budget cuts or tax increases. Aging services are a priority, and we have invested additional resources in a Grant Administrator, so that the County can seek additional funding and improve services.
2. Based on the past years of learning about the Department of Aging, I believe that department tries to use the funds in the most appropriate manner; including providing services to avoid higher levels of care, and to help those to remain in their home and community. But the Aging department, as well as the other 42 County departments, should always be reviewed for more efficient delivery of services, added new services, and eliminate any service no longer needed.
3. As a senior myself, I witness the transition into the senior years, and the adjustments needed to remain active, healthy, and enjoy a true quality of life. Additionally, for the current year, I voted in support of $525,000 in additional funding for Aging from the County’s General Fund. And finally, as a board member of The Lord’s Diner, and CPRF (Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation), I am able to support active improvements with aging and those challenged with physical disabilities.
4. Public safety: Supporting law and order for the safety and health of our citizens. Mental health: The community has been discussing this for the past couple years. We have talked and analyzed enough and it’s time for clear action and measured results. Economic development: It’s been proven that when a region is growing economically, all citizens benefit along with government services and education.
Ryan Baty, 41, Maize
First-time candidate for elected office
1. The Department of Aging provides much needed services to aging adults in Sedgwick County.
These services include things such as protective legal aid, vision care, health screenings, transportation and mental health counseling. From 2008-2021, the county’s spending on senior services decreased nearly 54 percent and equates to around 0.482 mills. As needs continue to increase, so should the commitment from Sedgwick County government. I would be an advocate for increasing our Aging Mill Levy up to 1 mill and would support a new ballot initiative to give our citizens a voice in how they want to fund senior services.
2. Budgets are about priorities. I believe our budget should demonstrate the value our community places on serving our aging population. The 2022 budgeted funds from the Department of Aging totaled $12,460,389 and of that only $720,000 is allocated to Senior Centers. The only contention I have in budget allocation is the model in which we determine funding for each of our 17 centers. I would advocate for a new approach that places more value on our senior centers and allows for a more equitable distribution of funds.
3. My career has consisted of running a small business, nonprofit work in the foster care system and public schools, and nearly 12 years in pastoral ministry. This broad experience has shaped me and allowed me to live a life of service to others in this community. I am determined to be a strong voice for our most vulnerable citizens and feel a deep responsibility to ensure that government services are efficient and the funding is sufficient to meet the needs of our senior citizens. I am also very aware of the burden property taxes places on our aging populations.
4. To bring stability and efficiency to Sedgwick County Government, particularly in public safety functions such as EMS, Fire and the Jail. To contend for the economic health and growth of our community. Many of the issues we are experiencing in budgets, to maintain current levels of service, can only be solved through revenue growth. I believe we can influence economic growth that expands our tax base while also giving property tax relief to individuals in Sedgwick County. To bring modern, collaborative solutions to a growing mental health and substance abuse crisis. I am an advocate for rethinking COMCARE.
Lacey Cruse, 40, Wichita
Sedgwick County Commissioner for four years
1. I do not think it’s adequate, and I believe the Aging department needs a complete overhaul. The ballot measure passed in 1982 proposed the county leverage up to 1 mill. Right now, the county is only accessing .482 mills. We need to put this measure back on the ballot with a more defined question. In addition to the ballot measure redo, the formula for funding senior centers needs to be replaced with a more equitable option. Our current advisory board also requires more authority, which is something I work to ensure when reelected in November.
2. The department does great things in our community but operates on a maintenance mentality. We need people with a future-forward outlook. With more than 89% of people over 50 wishing to stay in their homes for as long as possible, we must do more to help seniors age in place with independence by bolstering transportation, home repair, and nutritional programs. That being said, social isolation is a significant concern. We address that by including seniors in the decision-making on where we can mitigate risk factors to ensure no senior feels isolated or alone.
3. I have spent my entire private sector career of 15 years advocating for seniors and their families. In my first year in office, I championed and secured a unanimous bipartisan vote for $125,000 in additional funding for senior nutrition programs, senior centers, and the aging department’s other priorities. This past year when staff brought back a plan that didn’t allocate all of the $500,000 contingency funding, I demanded they take another look at utilizing all those funds. During my tenure, my record shows I have made seniors a priority and made a point to go out into the community.
4. I am focused on driving innovation with senior services especially. In my next term, I will continue to push for a redesign of current systems. I am focused on outcomes and will continue to lead behavioral health and addiction recovery efforts to reduce the number of people suffering on our streets. I am focused on transparency and will continue to make sure everyone knows what I know and is included in spending tax dollars in the most fiscally responsible way for the citizens of this county.
Jim Howell, 58, Derby
First elected Sedgwick County Commissioner in 2014, re-elected in 2018; previously served in Kansas House of Representatives
1. No, funding is not adequate. The percentage of age 65+ seniors in Sedgwick County is increasing faster than the general population. The funding levels have been stagnant and even decreased in some aspects. The 2023 budget only dedicates 0.37 mills property tax revenue to our property tax funded programs like senior centers. And since staff wages and commodities are impacted by inflation, the funding just to hold services level should have a cost-of-living increase. The 1982 ballot measure mandated the county commission provide up to one mill of revenue to fund service programs for the county’s population.
2. There are currently 14 programs that are either fully or partially funded by grant funds from the state. We need to continue to utilize those grants but the real political debate revolves around property tax dollars for additional programs. Again, I see the needs growing and the funding waning despite my advocacy. The 0.37 mills of funding is consumed by county overhead. As is, the county staff make most of the decisions and do not seek direction from the senior advisory council and too much of the dwindling funding is going to support county management of the aging organization itself.
3. I have been a strong advocate, fighting for seniors for many years. My reputation on this is well established. My opponent does not know the history and has no idea how to make improvements.
4. Property tax reform and budget process. Senior support and juvenile justice reform. Fix the sustainability of the fire district.
John McIntosh, 65, Derby
1. No, I do not think the current funding is either adequate or being spent properly. I would start
with a review on the Sedgwick County Advisory Council on Aging & Physical Disabilities board to see if this is the best way to bring forward the needs of our residents. I would continue conversations with local Senior Centers to find out what they feel is the best use of funds in the county, as well as professionals in the community that work with senior and ADA programs.
2. The problem I see with the budget process is no one knows what to spend the money on. I would look to professionals in the industry on what is the best effective ways to better help our growing senior population.
3. For the 6 years I was on the Derby City Council I was a strong supporter of Derby’s Senior Center and any issues that involved senior services in our community. I helped with many projects throughout the community including building the new senior garden for the residents, free rides on our Derby Dash on election day so all could get to the polls. I am also the caretaker of my 90-plus year old parents, so I see daily the issues and needs of our ever-increasing senior population.
4. Our first responders – fire, police, and EMS – deserve better pay and effective management.
The people protecting the public need respect and stability at work. Eliminating our staff shortages, increasing retention, and ensuring they have the resources they will make our community safer. Sedgwick County needs to be more proactive in combatting mental illness. Many of the issues facing our community stem from mental and behavioral issues. With a little prevention, we can ease the demands on law enforcement and our jail. Senior services have been underfunded and have had no clear direction on what the needs are for the county.
Tuesday, Oct. 18 is the last day to register to vote in the general election, which is Tuesday, Nov. 8. Those who have changed their name or address must re-register.
Kansas voters can check their registration status and find their Election Day polling site at myvoteinfo.voteks.org. On Nov. 8, polls in Sedgwick County will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and in Harvey and Butler counties, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Advance ballots will begin being mailed Oct. 19. Application forms to request an advance ballot are in county election offices or online
In-person early voting opportunities vary in counties. In Sedgwick County, walk-in early voting will start Oct. 24 at the Election Office, 510 N. Main, Wichita, with satellite sites opening Nov. 1.
Election information can be found at sos.ks.gov; for Sedgwick County, sedgwickcounty.org/elections or by calling 316-660-7100; for Harvey County, hvcoksvote.gov or 316-284-6840; and for Butler County, bucoks.com/181/Elections or 316-322-4239.