A state decision to temporarily withhold funding to build regional juvenile detention centers drew criticism today from two Douglas County commissioners.
Donna Whiteman, secretary of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, said last week that the state would withhold financing for the four new detention centers, including Douglas County's, until after the state studies how much a federal mandate to house juvenile offenders in separate centers will cost the state.
The Kansas House will have a hearing on that issue Thursday in Topeka.
Last year, SRS indicated it would finance 90 percent of the $1.5 million construction cost. The county also is trying to get the state to issue the bonds to build the four new centers in Lawrence, Girard, WaKeeney and Garden City, because the state would get a more favorable interest rate and also would be tied to the funding for 20 years, showing a long-term commitment to the centers.
THE DELAY had Commissioner Mike Amyx seeing red.
"If it's not going to come, I think that we need to make a decision here on whether or not we're going to participate," he said. "It's gotten to a point that things just are not working right. It seems like we're on the outside looking into this deal, but we got the mandate to carry it out."
Commission Chairman Mark Buhler said he felt "frustrated and disappointed" with the recent developments.
"What it does for me is it creates concern . . . if this is how bad it's going to be getting started, what about (subsequent years) of funding," he said.
Commissioner Louie McElhaney said he shared the other commissioners' concerns, but hesitated to drop the project.
"I wouldn't want to go so far right now as saying, `We're pulling out of it,'" he said. "There may be another county that is interested in doing this . . . and we're still going to be transporting our individuals outside of the county."
THE DETENTION center was supposed to open Jan. 1, 1993, to comply with a federal mandate in which juvenile offenders are not housed in adult jails. Douglas County complies with that mandate by sending its juvenile offenders to a detention center in Hutchinson. But some of the other 17 counties in the northeast Kansas region to be served by the proposed detention center in Lawrence do not comply with the mandate.
In October 1990, the state selected the four sites to host new juvenile detention centers. Douglas County has lobbied for state funds to build the center since that time.
County Administrator Chris McKenzie said the state's delay is affecting the county's pending contract with a design consultant and the hiring of a new director for the center. He said the county received 75 applications for the job.
"We're ready to go if they'd just sign the contract," McKenzie said of the state.
Buhler, McElhaney and McKenzie said they would attend Thursday's hearing in Topeka to show the county's interest in the project.