Talks are under way to save the Lawrence office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, officials said Friday.
Douglas County commissioners met in closed session to gather information aimed at keeping the office in operation.
And a meeting is scheduled next week between House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, and Gov. Sam Brownback.
“I’m encouraged that SRS and the governor’s office are at least willing to talk with us,” Davis said.
Brownback and SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. have proposed closing nine SRS offices, including the one in Lawrence, to save $1 million in administrative costs.
Douglas County commissioners met with Administrator Craig Weinaug and Chris Berger, assistant county counselor, for 80 minutes Friday afternoon, during an executive session at the Douglas County Courthouse called to discuss matters deemed privileged through their attorney-client relationship.
Commissioners declined to comment on their discussions, but they clearly walked out with the SRS situation on their minds.
“We’re continuing to work on that issue,” said Jim Flory, a Republican who serves as commission chairman.
Added Mike Gaughan, a Democrat, “We have not yet had any discussions with the state about alternative outcomes. However, everybody recognizes the importance of resolving this in a way that maintains the relationships and the unique services that SRS is able to provide to our community.”
Gaughan added: “We’re looking forward to working with the state to keep this office open.”
The Lawrence office, with 87 employees who assist thousands of clients, is by far the largest slated for closure.
Since the announcement July 1, officials in Lawrence have asked Brownback to keep the office open, saying the decision to shut it down was made with incomplete information.
Siedlecki has said closing the Lawrence operations — housed in two buildings at 1900 and 1901 Del. — would save the state $400,000, mostly in rental costs.
But about half the rent is paid for with federal funds. And a possible lawsuit against the state for breaking its lease at the SRS office could negate any savings, local officials have said.
Some in the community have suggested local government could help out with the costs, but no public discussion among policymakers of that has taken place yet.
Brownback and Siedlecki have also argued that SRS clients could access services online or by traveling to offices in Topeka, Kansas City or Overland Park. Advocates for the poor and those with disabilities say many SRS services, such as applying for Medicaid, cannot be done online, and many of those seeking assistance don’t have transportation to other cities.
“Our most vulnerable citizens lack the resources or ability to travel 40 miles and would therefore be left unable to access services when a visit is required,” Douglas County legislators said in a letter to Brownback.
“Overall, it may not be cutting costs, but simply shifting them to the community, the clients and to other state agencies,” the letter said.
It was signed by state Sens. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and state Reps. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, Ann Mah, D-Topeka, Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, and Davis.