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Sedgwick County requests a move to keep Riddel Boys Ranch open

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, July 21, 2013, at 11:05 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at 7:14 a.m.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed which fiscal year Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau is proposing to spend county money on the ranch.

Sedgwick County wants the state to create a new type of residential center for troubled juveniles and pay more for it – a move that county officials hope could keep the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch open.

What the ranch in Goddard offers boys in trouble exceeds state requirements for youth residential centers II, the center’s current classification, county officials say. But it costs more than the state pays the county to operate the ranch, a difference of about $75 a day per boy.

The Legislature approved an additional $750,000 lump sum for this fiscal year to offset costs at the ranch. But county officials say that doesn’t address the cost long term. It still wants the state to increase the daily rate it pays for future years.

So the future of the ranch remains in limbo a year after County Manager William Buchanan first recommended closing it.

Buchanan now recommends that the county not subsidize the ranch in the state's current fiscal year and after that only if the state increases the daily rate for future years.

A letter that Jim Skelton, chairman of the Sedgwick County Commission, sent recently to legislators thanked them for the $750,000 but noted that the daily rate paid by the state had not increased since 2007. And that, county officials have said, was based on 2006 costs.

“Over the next year we hope to continue to work with the state on a long-term solution including a new tier of youth residential centers offering programming and measurable results at an increased daily rate,” the letter said. “While we appreciate the one-time funding allocation, we do not believe it is a long-term solution – it puts the program in question for youth, staff and our partners.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, serves on the Legislature’s joint committee on corrections and juvenile justice oversight and said he will work to get more money for the ranch.

“I think what the boys ranch does is really important for the community,” Ward said Friday. “It gives the boys one last opportunity to stay connected in their community before they go to the juvenile correctional system. It gives them an opportunity to change.”

Ward said the idea of creating a new tier of youth residential center is a creative way to try to get more money from the state. What the county essentially is telling the state is: Give us more money, and we’ll do more to turn boys’ lives around.

“We will have conversations about this because I’m going to bring this up for sure,” Ward said. “This is much better than sending these kids to juvenile detention. It’s way better, long term. But we tend to look at the short term. It’s penny wise, pound foolish.”

Rep. James Howell, R-Derby, said he believes the county “has an incentive to find efficiencies and do the best job they can on $126 a day,” what the state currently pays.

He said all youth residential centers “are struggling for funding.”

A bill he pushed for would have required all such centers to publish their outcomes – rates of recidivism among juveniles, for example. The bill didn’t pass out of the House. He said he doesn’t doubt that the boys ranch does a good job, but he said because other centers don’t publish outcomes, there’s no way to compare whether the ranch’s additional programming is worth the extra cost.

“We don’t really know how good or bad we are,” he said.

His bill, he said, would have provided higher funding for centers doing the best work.

Although he is hesitant to increase the ranch’s daily rate from $126 to the $201 the county says it has been spending, “I do think that the number has to go up, absolutely. But if we can’t make a proof that these things are working, I can’t spend taxpayer money. The data will give us the answer.”

Meanwhile, Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau wants to use $100,000 of county money next year so the ranch can have the programming he says has made it successful.

Mark Masterson, director of the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections, said in an e-mail to commissioners that the $750,000 from the state would allow the boys ranch to meet all current staffing and program requirements through next June 30.

He estimated that the ranch would need $96,023 more in that period to offer the type of programming it has made available in the past. That money, he said, would add a full-time senior corrections counselor and a part-time corrections worker and maintain a full-time corrections worker position that is slated to be cut in January.

“The benefits of adding one additional counselor are to restore more individual work with youth and to restore programming with parents to engage them in the program with their son,” he said, noting that the number of counselors at the ranch has decreased from five to two since 2011.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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