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Kansas House, Senate negotiators reach deal to fund Riddel Boys Ranch

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 7:21 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, May 17, 2013, at 6:43 a.m.

— House and Senate budget negotiators have reached accord to provide $750,000 in funding for the Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch, the juvenile correctional facility at Lake Afton that was threatened with closure last year during a Sedgwick County budget crunch.

The promise of funding comes as county officials are beginning work on next year’s budget. County officials said the money ensures that the Boys Ranch can stay open.

“We are prepared to make it work,” said Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan.

The state appropriation represents about 27 percent of the annual operating budget for the Boys Ranch, which county officials and university researchers say is a model program that goes beyond confinement to provide life-skills training, education and counseling that turn youth offenders away from a life of crime.

When final budget negotiations began six weeks ago, the House of Representatives had included money for the ranch in its budget proposal, while the Senate didn’t.

On Thursday, money for the ranch was included in a Senate offer as negotiators from both chambers work to hammer their divergent budgets into a single bill.

Lawmakers will still have to work out some details of which state fund to tap for the ranch, but the chairmen of both the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees both said however that works out, the money for the ranch will be in the final spending plan that will go to the floor in both chambers.

“It will still get the money,” said Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton.

“We have an understanding on that,” said Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover.

Last year, the Sedgwick County Commission considered closing the Boys Ranch because of a gap between the cost of providing incarceration and services and the funding the county got from the state.

At the time, the county was paying $201 a day per boy to provide 24-7 housing and services to as many as 49 boys in the program at a time. The state was paying $126 with the county picking up the rest.

Facing a $9.3 million shortfall in their budget, county officials seriously considered closing the ranch.

Buchanan, the county manager, said he’s “delighted and pleased” that lawmakers have reached agreement on providing funding for the ranch.

He said that juvenile justice is a state responsibility and that if the county-managed Boys Ranch is funded, “we’ll deliver results for them.”

County officials have sought to preserve the program, which has a strong track record for turning youths away from crime compared to regular juvenile-justice systems.

A study by a Wichita State University professor found that based on the crimes they’ve committed and other risk factors, the number of youths who went on to commit other crimes after serving time at the Boys Ranch is 27 percent lower than ordinarily would be expected.

The senator whose district includes the Boys Ranch, Dan Kerschen, R-Goddard, said he’d met privately with members of the spending committees to sell them on funding the program.

“This funding is critical,” he said “It’s justified because we have seen good results at the ranch.”

County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, who also represents the area including the ranch, also expressed delight that funding appears to be on the way.

He said the uncertainty over state funding has been delaying some the decisions that the commission has to make as part of its ongoing budget deliberations.

State funding for the Boys Ranch “is going to be an important piece of our budget,” he said. “We’ve got to look at all the pieces coming out of Topeka, but this is a very good sign.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 785-296-3006 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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