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Jim Howell: Work together on boys ranch

  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at 12 a.m.

I was disappointed that, once again, the Sedgwick County Commission and County Manager William Buchanan are damaging the real and concerted efforts being made by the south-central Kansas legislative delegation to keep the Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch open (Jan. 23 Eagle).

On one hand, the county says it lacks funds for the boys ranch. On the other hand, it magically found $190,000 to pay bonuses at the ranch. How can the delegation and I continue to advocate for needed funds when the county is sending conflicting messages?

I believe the boys ranch is good government. These boys deserve the chance to turn their lives around and become productive members of our county. Taxpayers understand that a lifetime of prison costs more than treatment.

Last legislative session, I spent enormous effort to get the $750,000 needed to keep the ranch open through the end of 2014, only to have the county place those funds in the ranch’s 2013 budget, which the county had previously funded. It is these types of actions that harm the legislative efforts with the boys ranch.

The Kansas Department of Corrections stated that there is a surplus of beds in and near Sedgwick County and that other such programs are successfully operating at the state funding level of $126 per boy per day. I am leaning hard on KDOC to see this evidence and to personally talk with these organizations. So far, the evidence has not supported KDOC’s claims.

I have started legislation that would create short- and long-term solutions. These include conducting a new cost study to determine an appropriate current payment rate, tracking program successes, rewarding effectiveness, and acquiring necessary funding to keep the ranch open to the end of 2015. I cannot promise success, but it is premature for the county to assume failure.

I hope that all future actions of the County Commission and manager will clearly support the delegation’s efforts to save the boys ranch. Let’s work together for our county and our children.

Jim Howell is a state representative from Derby and is chairman of the south-central Kansas legislative delegation. He has announced plans to run for the Sedgwick County Commission.

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