Sarah Siders is a mother, wife, therapist, pastor and writer who loves Manhattan and is seeking to serve our great city by providing thoughtful, compassionate and decisive leadership as we enter a new era of education, economy and social connection. A K-State graduate, Sarah has lived in Manhattan for 16 years, is married, and is raising her two sons in the Northview neighborhood.
Bachelors of Arts, Social Work, Kansas State University
Masters of Clinical Social Work, Washburn University
Boys and Girls Club volunteer
The Well Church outreach and community engagement
Greater Manhattan Community Foundation Young Trustees Member
Northview Rising member
PO Box 267
Manhattan, KS 66505
Two issues cited by studies as lacking sufficient support in Manhattan are mental health and childcare. Do you agree these are areas of primary importance? If so, how would you address these needs? If not, what other two issues are more important and how would you address those needs?
I agree that mental health and childcare tend to top the list of concerns for local people. Reducing red tape for day care licensing is important but creative solutions are needed. Some communities encourage on-site daycare for parents in the workplace or offer childcare facilities in a senior home. It will take creative thinking for our community to address this need.
In the wake of the nationwide crisis of mental health, as well state funding cuts for community mental health, the opening of the voluntary stabilization center and the collaboration between RCPD and Pawnee are signs of progress that our community is recognizing the important impact of promoting and acknowledging mental health. I would want to continue to support these efforts.
Also, I believe affordable housing for our young workforce is a significant need, and I believe building density in the urban cores will help build quality of place, improve housing affordability and access and utilize existing infrastructure.
What is your evaluation of the current level of taxation in Manhattan? If you believe taxes need to be cut, what services would you eliminate or change to balance the budget? If you believe taxes need to be raised, what services would you add that justify the additional expense to the taxpayers?
The experience of taxation is relative to personal income, experience in other locations, and expectations. Some residents I've talked with say Manhattan is very affordable in comparison with larger cities while others share a fear they will have to move in order to afford housing and other necessities. From my review of the city budget, there is not much room to cut the city income. Manhattan residents rely on the services the city provides, yet tax income does not fully cover these costs. So it would be difficult for me to justify cutting any particular expenses. However, my conversations with residents indicate an experience of ever-increasing taxation, leading to a wariness of new tax-funded initiatives and a lack of trust of government. I would like to see the city utilize the funding we have without constantly raising the property tax to pay for basic services. I believe the passing of the sales tax could help fund critical and catalytic projects and avoid property tax increases.
Recently, the commission has asked voters to pass sales tax increases rather than increase property tax. Do you agree with this approach? Why or why not?
The sales tax initiative is a difficult proposition as sales tax disproportionately negatively impacts lower-income people. However, there are several important and catalytic projects proposed by the city that have varied funding sources and would create momentum in the city as we shift toward sustainability for the next decades. Due to the regular increase of the mill levy over the last few years, city staff proposed the sales tax in order to share the tax burden with visitors, which it does, and I believe this is a positive aspect of this form of taxation.
The city funds social services based on recommendations from the Social Services Advisory Board (SSAB). During the last budget cycle, a suggestion was made to limit social services funding to one mill. The argument was that one mill would provide more funding than SSAB currently allocates. What do you think about that proposal?
While city support of social services currently falls under one mill, including the funding support of other services and programs, such as ATA Bus, as was proposed, would increase the cost of the services and would no longer fall under one mill. While the city is by no means the sole funding source for the SSAB-supported non-profits, I believe the city has a responsibility to invest in these organizations and their work in order to care for the most vulnerable in our city. In addition, financial investments in these programs provides the city with the ability to influence the work produced and provide support and accountability as well.
To support the Riley County Police Department, the city of Manhattan levies property taxes at a rate that funds 80% of RCPD’s budget. Riley County does the same to fund the other 20%. The figures are proportionate to the number of residents in each area who benefit from RCPD’s services. Do you think that is equitable? If yes, why? If no, what would be an equitable proportion for each to pay?
From recent census data, approximately two-thirds of Riley County’s population resides in the Manhattan city limits. While the 80% RCPD budget required by Manhattan residents is beyond the two-thirds mark, Riley County currently covers the remaining 20% plus facilities costs. The current budget breakdown is not exactly equitable, but this may not be the result of the numbers as much as the structure of the Riley County Law Board. Although some of the board members are elected to city or county commission, the board itself is not an elected body and is able to develop a budget without need for approval by the city or county who will be funding said budget. Exploring options for adjusting the Law Board structure, for example, to allow the city and county to provide feedback to the proposed budget may improve equity and buy-in for the RCPD funding decisions in the future.
What do you see as the city’s responsibility toward historic preservation and the maintenance of historic properties?
As modern times are rapidly accelerating, the value for tradition and things of the past can often get lost. However, historic properties and artifacts represent the character, narrative and history of our city, and they are extremely important to preserve. The city’s Historic Resources Board is a crucial piece of this process. Preservation in the traditional sense of all our city’s old, unkempt buildings or spaces may not be practical and feasible in every situation. Recent examples of the Peace Memorial Auditorium and the Community House illustrate ways in which we can allow our citizens to engage, fund and support preservation with creative solutions driven by a desire to preserve and value these local treasures.
Do you see the local government as representative of the community at large? If so, how do you plan to support and/or enhance citizen engagement? If not, what would you suggest to make local government more inclusive?
I believe the local government does its best to represent the community at large, and I believe this model is most effective. Numerous city initiatives aim to engage residents, from the regular event, Planning and Pints, to the program, Neighborhood MHK, designed to engage residents about their needs and hopes for their neighborhood. The recent planning efforts involving residents speaking into the design of the middle school community centers is another example. I believe city staff truly value the interaction and feedback from Manhattan residents and seek to listen, share vision and gain buy-in as decisions are made. Newer models of citizen engagement that could be considered include participatory budgeting, which allows citizens to decide the use of a portion of the city budget. Also, I believe that with our growing Spanish-speaking population, it would be helpful to have the city website and social media updates available in Spanish to provide all our residents with equal access.