Social service leaders gathered Monday afternoon to urge city commissioners to reconsider 2009 budget cuts for agencies that provide drug and alcohol counseling.
Leaders from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, DCCCA, Headquarters Counseling, the Lawrence Community Shelter and others held a news conference at City Hall to protest how the City Commission plans to spend money generated by alcohol taxes charged in Lawrence.
Commissioners for the second consecutive year are using $250,000 in alcohol taxes to fund three school resource officers who police Lawrence junior high and high schools.
The funding for the police department program, however, has come at the expense of several traditional social service and counseling programs that have long relied on the alcohol tax money.
Monday's event brought a call from Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, for the city to follow the funding recommendations from its Special Alcohol Advisory Board, which recommended the police program receive $50,000. Davis said he believes the shift to use large amounts of the alcohol taxes for police funding is inconsistent with what the Legislature had intended when it created the tax.
"I just don't think I can overemphasize the importance of many of these programs and the role they have played in the lives of children and adults in this community," Davis said.
The city's recommended budget includes significant reductions to the advisory board's recommendations for three social service programs. They are:
¢ A $50,000 reduction for Bert Nash's WRAP program, which provides mental health counseling in Lawrence schools. Under the proposed budget, the program will not receive any city funding. The program over the years has been cut from 20 counselors to eight. It was hoped the city funding would be used to begin increasing the number of counselors, said Charlie Kuszmaul, WRAP's program coordinator.
¢ A $39,000 reduction to DCCCA's outpatient counseling program. Jen Brinkerhoff, director of prevention for DCCCA, said that reduction likely will cause the organization to eliminate one counselor position.
¢ A $13,000 reduction for the Lawrence Community Shelter. Director Loring Henderson said the reduction means he would not be able to increase the amount of drug and alcohol counseling provided at the center.
City commissioners did not attend the Monday news conference but previously have said they believe using alcohol tax money to fund a portion of the school resource officer program is appropriate. Commissioners have said that they believe the police program helps prevent drug and alcohol abuse by students. The alcohol taxes provide funding for three of the six school resource officers. The remaining three are funded from general tax dollars.
Commissioners also have said they hope the Lawrence school district will be able to provide additional funding for Bert Nash after voters in the school district approved in April an increase in the district's local option budget.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall to finalize the 2009 budget.