A majority of Sedgwick County commissioners voted Wednesday to send written testimony to Topeka regarding a bill that seeks to create a new type of youth residential center as a way to keep the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch open.
Commissioners Tim Norton, Jim Skelton and Dave Unruh voted to convey a neutral position on HB2540, which calls for creation of a youth residential center III category that would serve juvenile offenders only and not children in need of care and would mandate a cost study. Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau voted against providing only written and neutral testimony, saying that lawmakers might have questions for the county and that legislators are trying to help the county keep the ranch for troubled boys open. Ranzau plans to testify in favor of the bill in Topeka.
Unruh stressed to his colleagues that he thinks Kansas Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts has the power, without legislative action, to keep the boys ranch at Lake Afton open. When Roberts met with county officials in December, he questioned the amount of money spent on staffing at the ranch and said the state has a surplus of beds for the type of juvenile offenders who stay at the ranch.
The boys ranch has faced an uncertain future since 2012, when County Manager William Buchanan first recommended closing it for financial reasons.
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The written testimony reads in part: “We are supportive of the concept of creating a long-term funding solution for youth residential centers for medium to high risk youth that have proven results. Restructuring the residential placement system to reflect consideration of risk and intensity of services provided has been discussed in the past, and Sedgwick County has supported adopting such a restructuring since the former Juvenile Justice Authority (JJA) drafted a concept in 2011. The Board believes that creating a performance based system with matching payment levels is good and sound public policy.”
The commission majority made suggestions for two changes to the bill. They urge that “the new program category be reserved for only youth who are independently assessed as moderate or high risk to reoffend.”
The testimony also urged that the state should pay providers such as the boys ranch fair market value for services.
The bill advocates funding based on outcomes with the cost to be shared by providers and the state.
“State reimbursements would vary between 90 percent and 75 percent based upon performance measures that have not been identified,” the county’s official testimony says. “We support the idea of providing incentives based upon results; however, the state payment methodology should provide funding for the fair market value of the services. This is the way that the state funds prisons and juvenile correctional facilities, and it should be structured the same way for YRC III providers.”