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Monday, July 28, 2014

State budget cuts threaten county's elderly, disabled

BY DEB GRUVER
The Wichita Eagle

State budget cuts could affect some of Sedgwick County's most vulnerable residents, including those with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses and the elderly, concerning commissioners who don't want to raise taxes but want to continue services to such groups.

The county could lose about $8 million in state funds, commissioners were told at their annual planning retreat Tuesday. Most of the cuts are part of the state's budget for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1.

Comcare, the county's mental health agency, would take the biggest hit, losing about $4.5 million.

Of that, the majority would come from a 10 percent reduction in Medicaid payments, about $3.1 million. Medicaid is a federal- and state-funded health care program for low-income people. Medicaid rate cuts began Jan. 1.

Cuts to or eliminations of grants would account for another roughly $1.4 million.

"It is significant," Comcare executive director Marilyn Cook said of the cuts.

Corrections director Mark Masterson expressed concerns about roughly $3 million in potential cuts for his department.

Corrections could be forced to close an adult probation center because of the loss of funding. The county would have to decide whether to reduce the number of beds at the center — currently at 120 — or increase its own funding.

The center is further affected by unemployment because it collects revenue from working clients, who increasingly are having difficulty finding work, Masterson said.

If the center closes, more people will land in jail or prison, Masterson said. The county is already struggling with jail overcrowding.

Public safety also could be jeopardized, Masterson said.

Funding for intensive supervision programs also may be cut, and about $1.3 million for prevention programs could be eliminated.

The county's department on aging could lose about $225,000, including $90,000 in Medicaid payments and $135,000 in money that supports nutrition programs, human services director Deborah Donaldson said.

Other departments or services affected by state budget cuts are the health department, $64,400; EMS, $62,000; and the conservation commission, $7,500.

The county is in a strong financial position despite a faltering economy, chief financial officer Chris Chronis said. The county's strategy to build its reserves has paid off, he said.

But officials told commissioners they will have to make tough decisions about spending, distinguishing between services that are "nice to do" and those that are necessary.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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