Politics & Government

Local funds in Pratt, Ft. Scott may keep SRS offices open

LAWRENCE — Two more Kansas communities are considering whether to use local funds to keep the state's primary social services agency from closing local offices.

City officials in Fort Scott and Pratt are considering using local revenue to help pay rent to keep the state Social and Rehabilitation Services offices from closing, following the lead of Lawrence and Douglas County.

"We have been in constant contact with the SRS group trying to come up with some sort of resolution," Fort Scott City Manager Dave Martin said.

He added that it was difficult for the city to absorb the additional cost.

"We have a hard time throwing tax dollars at a state program," Martin said.

SRS officials announced earlier this year that it would close nine offices statewide in an effort to trim expenses amid tight state revenue. Services provided by the agency include foster care, family assistance, health care and administering food stamps.

Lawrence and Douglas County agreed to help offset the costs of office space by paying $450,000 to keep the Lawrence office open for two years.

SRS announced this summer that it was closing offices statewide to save approximately $1 million from the agency's budget. SRS plans to close offices in Garnett, Lyndon, Pratt and Wellington on Sept. 2; Coffeyville on Sept. 9; Marysville and McPherson on Sept. 16, and Fort Scott on Sept. 23, absent agreements with local officials in any of the communities.

"We are involved in continuing discussions with those communities," said SRS spokeswoman Angela De Rocha of talks with Fort Scott and Pratt.

In announcing the closure in Lawrence, SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. said people served by the office could access assistance on the Internet or travel to SRS offices in other cities, including Topeka.

Lawrence and Douglas County residents, advocates for the vulnerable populations and local officials protested the decision to SRS before reaching an agreement to use local funds to keep the office open. Some, however, said making the payment would set a precedent of shifting state costs to the local level.

Martin said he doesn't blame Lawrence and Douglas County officials for doing what they did.

"What I'm frustrated with is the whole situation. The whole thing was not handled or evaluated correctly," he said of SRS' closure announcement.

Fort Scott is located in Bourbon County along the Missouri border in southeast Kansas, one of the poorest regions of Kansas. Martin said the city would need to find $84,000 to keep the Fort Scott office open for two years.

Pratt city manager David Howard said the city and county would decide next week whether to come up with the $65,000 SRS says would be needed to keep the local office open.

"Whether it's doable or not I don't know," Howard said. "Anytime you have to come up with additional funds, it causes problems."