Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau offers a compelling case for the Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch, though he fell short Wednesday of seeing the county commit money to keep it open beyond next summer. Now, Ranzau and other county officials and area lawmakers need to make sure their message is acknowledged in Topeka and answered by sufficient state dollars.
The life-changing ranch for teens at Lake Afton has found a surprisingly passionate advocate in limited-government proponent Ranzau, who sought to earmark either $1.4 million or $96,000 to the 52-year-old ranch in the county’s $414 million budget for 2014. Commissioner Karl Peterjohn supported Ranzau’s motions.
The 2013 Legislature made a $750,000 grant to the ranch, which should be enough to keep it open through June 30. But that was half of what the county had requested. And it did not address the underlying problem, which is that the state is not covering the costs of operating what is an effective state program. The state has paid only $126 a day for the ranch, which has been costing the county more than $200 a day. The county has been willing and able to cover the difference until the 2014 budget, which was approved Wednesday.
A 2012 study by Wichita State University said the ranch and its enhanced programming save the county more than $1 million a year by deterring crime. Ranzau said Wednesday that closing the ranch, as County Manager William Buchanan had recommended last year, “will increase our jail population, and more people in our community will be victimized.”
Though Ranzau has expressed doubts about his colleagues’ commitment to keeping the ranch open, even suggesting a study overestimated operating costs, Wednesday’s debate underscored again that the boys ranch has strong support on the commission.
The disagreement is over strategy. Where Ranzau wants the county to recognize the ranch’s value to fighting recidivism and crime by continuing to invest county dollars in it, three of his colleagues don’t want to let the state off the hook.
“We need a long-term plan. That’s what I pledge to obtain for the county,” said Commission Chairman Jim Skelton.
That is certainly the most sustainable and fair approach – the way to help county taxpayers as well as troubled boys and public safety. Now Skelton and others need to pursue that plan, and the state dollars to fund it properly.