It is not exactly the type of start city and county officials were hoping for when it comes to the partnership they formed with the state of Kansas to keep the Lawrence SRS office open.
City and county leaders on Thursday reacted to news that Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. didn’t request any money in his department’s upcoming budget to fund the operations of Lawrence’s SRS office.
Instead, Siedlecki made comments to a legislative committee that indicated he was content with relying on the city and the county to provide funding for the office over the next two years.
“We expected a little more effort on their part,” Mayor Aron Cromwell said of SRS officials. “If you don’t ask for it, you’ll never get it, obviously.”
But local leaders said Siedlecki’s failure to seek state funding for the Lawrence office doesn’t constitute a breach in the agreement the city and the county made with SRS. That agreement — brokered this summer after it was announced the state would close the East 19th Street office — calls for the city and the county to provide to the state $450,000 over the next two years that will be used to pay for the expenses of the Lawrence office.
In exchange for the payment, the state essentially agreed that it would not close the Lawrence office during the next two years, and that after July 1, 2013, that SRS secretary would make a “good faith” effort to obtain adequate appropriations from the state Legislature.
“They are under no obligation to seek funding earlier,” said County Administrator Craig Weinaug, who helped broker the deal. “So we do not view this as an indicator that they don’t intend to meet their commitments to us. The key issue will be a year from now. If they’re not making requests for funding then, that will be a problem.”
But some local leaders were hoping that the good faith effort would begin a bit early. Since the agreement was brokered this summer, the state has continued to receive good news about its finances. The state’s tax collections have exceeded projections for six straight months through the end of September. The state is now projecting to end the next fiscal year with cash reserves of nearly $200 million, the Associated Press has reported.
“I definitely would have been much happier to see that good faith effort to restore our funding start this year,” Cromwell said. “That would have been a great sign that the good faith was genuine. There is still time for this to all work out, but that definitely would have eased some concerns.”
The state’s improved financial condition may give the city and the county a better chance of convincing legislators that funding for the Lawrence SRS office should be included in the upcoming budget. Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan said he expects the county to lobby legislators to provide funding for the SRS office immediately, rather than waiting for the local agreement to expire.
“I would love to see this resolved before two years are up,” Gaughan said.
The city and county’s agreement with the state is structured so that if the Legislature provides funding for the office, the city and county are no longer obligated to make the quarterly payments to the state.