July 25, 2012

County commissioners hear from public on Sedgwick County budget cuts

Supporters of groups facing funding cuts next year from Sedgwick County voiced their concerns with commissioners Wednesday.

Supporters of groups facing funding cuts next year from Sedgwick County voiced their concerns with commissioners Wednesday.

They made their remarks at the first of three public hearings on the county’s proposed $408 million budget for 2013.

Extension Center Council member Ken Moldenhauer started by noting that he agreed with a comment by County Manager William Buchanan in The Eagle that “There’s enough in this budget for everyone to hate.”

Moldenhauer said the proposed $177,000 cut to the extension center would be devastating for the community and amount to 30 cents per resident. The center provides community education on agriculture, horticulture and home economics.

If approved, Moldenhauer said, the cut on top of last year’s would equal a 30 percent decrease in county funding over two years. But county spokeswoman Kristi Zukovich said that’s not quite accurate, because the cuts are not cumulative. She said the cuts together equal a reduction of about 28 percent.

Moldenhauer stressed that the extension center is part of the county’s organizational chart, referring to comments by Buchanan that extension is not a county department.

“We are not an outside agency,” Moldenhauer said.

Buchanan has said that the extension center receives more money from the county where it is based than any other extension program in the state.

Moldenhauer said the extension center’s board is still reviewing how the center would handle the cuts.

Nate Davis, program director for Youth for Christ’s City Life Work program, talked about a recommendation to close the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch, which serves juvenile offenders aged 14 to 20.

Davis, a former resident at the ranch, used a personal anecdote to emphasize the importance of the ranch.

He said he and his family were planning a trip to Colorado and saved to rent a vehicle because they didn’t trust theirs on the highway. But expenses came up, and they no longer could afford to rent a vehicle. So they decided to fix their van and saved to take it to a mechanic. They spent that money, too. Davis said a friend came over “with whatever tools he had” to try to get the van ready for the road. A few hours into the trip, he said, the van broke down. He questioned his decision to trust his family’s safety to someone without specific training.

The staff at the boys ranch, he said, are well-trained, experienced and most important, care. He said there are other centers in the state that could house the offenders at the boys ranch if it is closed, but none offer the same amount or quality of programming.

Delores Craig-Moreland, a recently retired Wichita State University criminal justice professor who studied recidivism rates among boys at the ranch, said the county’s return on investment is $21 for every $1 it spends on the ranch.

Buchanan has recommended closing the ranch because of a gap in funding from the state.

The state gives the county $126 per day per boy, but the county’s cost is $204 per day per boy. Closing the ranch would save the county about $1.5 million a year.

Vicki Shepard, director of the Park City Senior Center, asked commissioners to not cut funding to senior centers by 10 percent, or $66,300.

She said centers improve seniors’ quality of life and keep them active and out of nursing homes and long-term care, which are expensive options to the elderly staying in their homes.

Resident Charlie Peaster, who often attends commission meetings, took issue with a planned 3 percent pool for performance-based raises for county staff.

Buchanan’s budget eliminates 113 positions, 79 of which are filled.

That means 79 people could lose their jobs, unless they are qualified for positions that become open due to attrition.

Peaster said he thought most workers would be willing to give up a raise to save their colleagues’ jobs, especially if that means they will have to take on more work because of layoffs.

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