Douglas County commissioners Wednesday echoed the City Commission, unanimously approving a memorandum to provide for the continued operation of the Social and Rehabilitation Services office in Lawrence.
The decision was preceded at the meeting by nothing but positive feedback from various members of the local community. No one spoke in opposition of the plan, which sees the city and county split funding that will keep the SRS office open through 2013.
City commissioners approved the plan with a 5-0 vote Tuesday night before sending the deal to the county for final approval. The funding, $112,500 from each governing body in 2012 and 2013, will cover costs cut at the state level.
County commissioner Nancy Thellman said the group didn’t always see eye to eye, but the urgency of the situation brought them together.
“On this, I think we’ve had a meeting of the mind and of the heart,” she said. “I think to choose the needs of the people is the right choice.”
State funding cuts to the SRS would have left thousands of county residents without services and would have sent the office’s 87 employees elsewhere.
All three commissioners voiced their opposition to the decisions made by state leaders that led to the situation that has consumed so much of their time and efforts the last several weeks.
“This is quite frankly no way to balance a state budget,” Commissioner Mike Gaughan said of the state’s decisions. “But the fact of the matter is we’re charged with the responsibilities. Right now the important thing to do is keep that office open.”
A common public concern commissioners identified Wednesday was the precedent set by local government picking up the tab on state responsibilities. Commissioner Jim Flory said that while using local tax dollars was a downside, the benefits “considerably and significantly” outweighed it.
A provision in the proposal would allow the city and county to nix their payment obligations should the state legislature provide funding for the local office in the future.
“It’s been a hard road to get where we are tonight,” Thellman said. “And there’s a tough road ahead as always, but I’m really grateful in this moment to be on this commission.”