Go Topeka 2014 Budget Discussion Focuses On Youth

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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- The Heartland Visioning project and downtown Topeka improvements are out of Go Topeka's budget for 2014, while the Joint Economic Development Organization debated how to fit youth in.

JEDO's discussion on Go Topeka's 2014 budget continued returning to the question of whether to earmark money specifically for youth job training.

Deputy Mayor Sylvia Ortiz championed the proposal to allocate money for youth. More than $150,000 had been budgeted for work force development, a portion of that for increased interaction with youth.

"I think it's very important to train up our youth," Ortiz said. "It's a small investment to our children to get them off the street. And the payback is to get them off the street to get them working, to invest back in our community because that's what they're going to do, they're going to take their money and buy clothes and things of need and help their families."

At first Ortiz proposed $50,000, but said she didn't know how to go about it.

President and CEO of Go Topeka Doug Kinsinger pointed out that the $150,000 set aside for work force development includes promoting careers in manufacturing and technical industries at high schools and to provide scholarships. However, he said the work force development has been primarily focused on the "wage earners," or the parents, not so much the youth.

Councilman Chad Manspeaker proposed to take out the $60,000 set aside for funding Heartland Visioning and put it specifically toward youth training programs, including it to the line in the plan that said "increased interaction."

"I think training our youth to be employable, especially when they graduate from high school and are out in the job market looking for a job and need a certain skill set, is very important."

Mayor Larry Wolgast and Councilwoman Michelle De La Isla did not support the proposal, saying Heartland Visioning is important to the community, it being the entity that created NOTO.

Commissioner Kevin Cook supported moving the $60,000 to youth training because he wants to see accomplishments in decreasing the unemployment rate, and that "increased interaction" is too vague.

Cook added that the money "could be used better," and that if Go Topeka can raise $700,000 in private funding per year, it can afford it. He proposed Heartland Visioning funding should not come from the public half-cent sales tax.

The board eventually voted to amend the budget to eliminate the $60k from Heartland Visioning project, and put it back into the monies that are managed by JEDO. The topic to allocate money specifically to youth did not come up again.

Most agreed that the project has diminishing returns and has not been as successful in recent years.

Manspeaker's said that Heartland Visioning's focus turned to downtown redevelopment and was concerned that trust in government and transparency are not the priorities anymore.

On top of that, the board voted 4-3 to take out $100,000 in incentive grants for a downtown facade project. This was also met with some concern from De La Isla and Mayor Wolgast. The same amount of money was moved to entrepreneurial development, and it would be up to the Go Topeka board to decide if youth training programs would be included.

The plan also added aviation to the target industry list, to attract new business to Topeka.

The 2014 budget also would decrease JEDO's share of Go Topeka's salaries by 19%. Kinsinger said that's because an increase in private donations will cover a larger portion of that.

JEDO also considered the 2014 contract with Go Topeka. JEDO would provide $5 million dollars to Go Topeka which would go into economic improvements in Topeka.