Topeka — Supporters of keeping open the Lawrence office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services said Thursday the building’s lease with the state may help their efforts.
A provision in the lease between SRS and Lawrence developer and property owner Duane Schwada’s Venture Realty Corp. for two buildings at 19th and Delaware streets, states that SRS “shall use its best efforts to obtain annual appropriations to satisfy its obligations under this lease.”
Lease agreement for SRS office ( .PDF )
SRS office lease amendment ( .PDF )
“I think this puts an affirmative obligation on them (SRS) to provide for the money in their budget,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.
Local leaders are searching for ways to reverse the decision by SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. to close the Lawrence office.
Siedlecki has said that the state budget approved by the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback calls for $42 million in cuts to SRS, including $1 million in administrative expenses.
On July 1, Siedlecki announced his intention to shut down nine offices, including the one in Lawrence, which serves thousands of people and employs 87. The Lawrence office was, by far, the largest on the closure list.
Community meetings on the issue have drawn hundreds of people, and more events are scheduled, including a rally at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at South Park.
Siedlecki has said closing the Lawrence office will save the state $413,385, which includes $331,875 in rent. He and Brownback have said that people utilizing SRS in Lawrence can travel to nearby cities, such as Topeka, Overland Park and Ottawa, or use the Internet. Social service advocates and law enforcement officials have said that is not realistic and the closure will disrupt assistance for many vulnerable citizens.
In a meeting with reporters on Monday, Siedlecki and his top staff said they were confident they would be able to terminate the lease for the Lawrence SRS office. They said they want to work with local leaders to see if there is a possibility for free office space for a small number of SRS employees.
“We want to make sure it is an orderly process,” Siedlecki said.
The full lease provision cited by Davis states: “Lessee (SRS, in this case) shall include in its annual administrative services budget the funds necessary for Lessee's obligations under this Lease, and shall use its best efforts to obtain annual appropriations to satisfy its obligations under this Lease.”
Davis said SRS has discretionary spending that could, and should, be allocated to fulfilling its contracts, including this one.
Another provision that was added to the lease in December 2008 states: “Subject to termination for fiscal necessity, four years of occupancy are guaranteed. The Lessee may terminate this lease upon the giving of 180 days notice in writing to the Lessor, after the end of the four year guaranteed lease period.”Opponents of the Lawrence closure say it will disrupt critical services for many vulnerable residents.
In a meeting on Monday with reporters and editors of the Journal-World, Siedlecki and his staff indicated they would be able to terminate the lease for the Lawrence SRS office.