Topeka Douglas County commissioners have asked Gov. Sam Brownback to reject the planned closure of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services office in Lawrence, saying shutting it down will cost county taxpayers more than the state will save and result in the loss of services to vulnerable people.
And in another development related to the shutdown, SRS said Tuesday that employees at the Lawrence SRS office can apply to transfer to the Topeka office. That’s contrary to a memo the department had sent out earlier.
On Monday, the Lawrence Journal-World obtained an SRS memo by Jason Haney, interim director of programs for the Kansas City Metro Region of SRS, that said Lawrence SRS office employees would not be able to transfer to the Topeka office.
But on Tuesday, SRS Kansas City Metro Regional Director Phyllis Gilmore said that earlier memo contained misinformation. “The Topeka office has always been and remains an option for Lawrence staff to transfer to. I apologize for the confusion.”
The Lawrence office has 87 employees.
When asked if Lawrence cases could be transferred to Topeka, SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said, “No decisions have been made. This is still undergoing review.”
In the letter to Brownback, the Douglas County commission said the planned closure would have a negative impact on the community.
“There are a number of crucial SRS services upon which our residents depend that will be diminished and it will be impossible for any other agency to fill the gap,” the letter signed by Commission Chairman Jim Flory said.
The commission also sent Brownback written testimony from approximately 20 Lawrence agencies and governmental entities about their increased costs should the SRS office be shut down.
Brownback and SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. have said the state needs to close nine offices, including the one in Lawrence, to save about $1 million in administrative costs. The Lawrence office savings has been tabbed at $400,000, according to SRS.
Brownback and Siedlecki have said SRS services can be accessed online or by traveling to offices in nearby cities, such as Topeka, Overland Park, Kansas City or Ottawa.
But non-profit social service agencies have said this will greatly increase their costs in helping people get to those offices, and many folks will simply lose assistance because it will be too difficult to reach those offices.
“There are no public transit services that go from Lawrence to the alternative SRS offices,” the letter said. “A large percentage of Douglas County SRS clients do not have access to a car.”
The letter states that a round-trip taxi trip to the Topeka SRS office from Lawrence costs $128. That trip is even more expensive to other towns. “That is the reality facing more than 10,000 people who will now have to consider how to reach the office where their caseworker has been transferred,” the letter said.
The letter concluded “ ... it will cost the taxpayers of Douglas County more tax dollars than the state is saving. And even with best efforts, there will be critical losses in services that we cannot fill locally.”