It’s good that local officials are taking an active interest in maintaining services for local clients of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. However, city and county officials shouldn’t be too quick to commit local taxpayer dollars to pay for services that should be the state’s responsibility.
The closure of nine SRS offices across the state is beginning to get the attention of state legislators, including some Republicans, who may hold additional sway with the Republican administration of Gov. Sam Brownback. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, has asked SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki for additional information about the planned closures and publicly rejected Siedlecki’s contention that closing the offices was necessary to meet a legislative mandate to cut SRS administrative costs by $1 million.
McGinn, who was the lead budget writer in the Senate, said last week that SRS officials invited legislators to make the budget cuts but that the intention of legislators was for administrative cuts to be made at the state level, not by eliminating local offices.
Douglas County commissioners have had several private meetings with their attorneys concerning the SRS situation. A plan seems to be in the works, but no details have been revealed. The Lawrence City Commission’s Tuesday agenda includes a public briefing on the SRS matter, which may shed some light on what local officials are contemplating.
Local officials are right to monitor this situation closely, but they need to let it play out at the state level before making a commitment to help maintain local SRS services — especially any commitment that might involve local tax money. Unfortunately, that may take a little time. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on State Building Construction requested more information on the SRS closures last week, but the committee doesn’t plan to discuss that information and meet with SRS and Department of Administration officials until its next meeting in September. Legislators who are concerned about this issue need to press their concerns now and make sure that local SRS offices aren’t already closed before legislative leaders get around to calling SRS officials to account.
The Lawrence SRS office was by far the largest office on the closure list, but eight other Kansas communities — and their state legislators — also are worried about how SRS services will be delivered to their residents after local offices are closed. This is a statewide issue that deserves statewide attention.
SRS leaders made the decision to close these offices, apparently with little regard for how that decision would affect the delivery of services to thousands of Kansas residents. This problem is theirs to solve. It’s good of local officials to want to pick up this cause, but even though it feels like SRS officials are holding Lawrence hostage, we shouldn’t be too quick to pay the ransom.