July 23, 2011

Johnson County refuses grants, citing U.S. debt

For months now, Sedgwick County commissioner Richard Ranzau has voted against accepting federal dollars to support services provided by the county.

For months now, Sedgwick County commissioner Richard Ranzau has voted against accepting federal dollars to support services provided by the county.

He might be getting some allies in the northeastern part of the state.

Johnson County commissioners recently voted 4-3 against accepting a $323,575 grant for a program to help people live healthier. Commissioners thought there were other programs targeting minorities that provided the same service. But some of the commissioners also voted against it because the country is in debt.

"We're borrowing on our children's futures," Johnson County Commissioner Calvin Hayden said in an interview with The Eagle on Friday.

That's similar to Ranzau's message nearly every Wednesday at Sedgwick County Commission meetings.

Since Feb. 2, Ranzau has used time at the end of meetings to update residents about the federal debt and what each taxpayer owes against it. The number as of Friday was $46,133.42 per person.

Ranzau has voted against all but two federal grants. So far, he's been in the minority doing so.

Hayden, who lives in DeSoto, thinks it's possible more county leaders across the state will start saying "Thanks, but no thanks" to federal money. The argument for accepting grant money often is that "it's free," and the federal government will give the money to another county or city, Hayden said.

"Fourteen-point-three trillion dollars is a lot," he said of the national debt.

Local government, Hayden said, is going to have to start reconsidering what he called entitlement money.

"It's not really free money," Hayden said. "Nothing's really free."

Like Ranzau, Hayden said he also has concerns about how to support staff hired through grants after grant money dries up.

However, unlike Ranzau, Hayden, also a Republican, hasn't taken a broad approach to grants.

"I think each one has to be taken on its own merit," Hayden said. "You can't rubber stamp things."

Sedgwick County commissioners Tim Norton, Jim Skelton and Dave Unruh have supported grants that Ranzau — sometimes with Commissioner Karl Peterjohn — has voted against. They say they money will go somewhere else, and Sedgwick County might as well get its piece of the pie.

Johnson County Commissioner Jason Osterhaus, a Republican, said he thought the grant he and a majority of his colleagues voted against was a duplication of services.

"A quick Google search will find any number of free ways to cut your cholesterol or exercise or stop smoking," he said.

But "in the bigger scheme of things, we are broke," he said.

One question Osterhaus says he considers when voting on accepting a grant: Is it something that creates a position that may be unfunded later?

Osterhaus said he recently voted to accept federal funds to replace a bus.

"That's something tangible," he said. "That's something that has to be replaced."

Although he said he also is concerned about the federal debt, "for me, it's more about is this a redundant program, something that's already being done by the private sector."

Ranzau uttered an "Alleluia!" when told of the recent vote in Johnson County.

He said he hopes more local leaders will follow suit.

"I think Congress needs to hear from the lower levels of government that we're prepared to accept the cuts to save the country from financial collapse," Ranzau said.

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