May 13, 2014

Sedgwick County manager presents four-step plan to close Judge Riddel Boys Ranch

The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch is set to close in late July under a four-step plan Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan presented to commissioners Tuesday.

The Judge Riddel Boys Ranch is set to close in late July under a four-step plan Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan presented to commissioners Tuesday.

Not all commissioners were happy with the plan.

Richard Ranzau and Karl Peterjohn repeated their objections to closing the ranch for troubled boys.

“I’m not going to just sit here and listen to this propaganda,” Ranzau told Buchanan, frustrated with the manager’s explanation of why the ranch should close.

Buchanan walked commissioners and county staff leaders through the recent history of the ranch and said the state had failed to come up with money to make up a funding gap.

The state has paid the county $126 per boy per day, but the county’s cost has been about $200 per boy per day. The Kansas Legislature gave the county $750,000 in additional funding in the current fiscal year that ends June 30. No additional money was budgeted for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The boys ranch, which opened in 1961 and is operated by the county for the state, has been in limbo for several years. In 2012, Buchanan recommended closing the ranch at Lake Afton if the state would not pay more. There were 31 boys at the ranch as of Tuesday.

To help reduce costs, the ranch moved to 12-hour staffing shifts. Earlier this year, the county paid $140,000 in retention incentives, or bonuses, to workers at the ranch to keep it staffed. Ranzau told Buchanan that dishing out that money made it more difficult to persuade legislators to approve additional funding for the ranch.

“I can’t be responsible for others’ irrational thinking,” Buchanan retorted.

Ranzau then said Buchanan’s drive to close the ranch was what was irrational.

At one point in the discussion, Commissioner Jim Skelton called for order.

Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville, told The Eagle later that “what stopped us giving money to the county was the fact that Buchanan was able to come up with the money for bonuses” but not to operate the ranch.

“I believe it’s time for Buchanan to be terminated,” Edwards said. “Buchanan is the one that started this prospect of closing the boys ranch. I just cannot believe that Sedgwick County would not continue something that has had the success as the boys ranch.”

A county spokeswoman said Buchanan had no response to Edwards’ comments.

Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, also has expressed concern about the ranch closing. Howell said recently that a bill calling for a cost study of facilities designated as youth residential centers II could have given the county help after July 1, 2015. It is expected to be signed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

“There was cavalry on the way,” Howell, who is running for a commission seat, said last week after Buchanan said the ranch should not accept any more boys.

The ranch offers intensive programming for boys to try to turn their lives around. A Wichita State University study has said it saves the county just more than $1 million a year in crimes that are avoided.

Peterjohn called closing the ranch “penny wise and pound foolish.”

Peterjohn also pushed for the commission to vote on whether to close the ranch. Buchanan said he didn’t think that was necessary because commissioners had approved the county’s budget for this year, which included shuttering the ranch.

Peterjohn persisted, saying commissioners should vote for transparency’s sake.

Commission Chairman Dave Unruh at that point said he’s been clear about his stance on the issue – that the state should fully pay for the ranch.

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