It was welcome news to five Kansas communities that the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services would include funding for their local SRS offices in its budget proposal for next year.
However, that is just the first step to funds actually being allocated to keep those offices open.
Last summer, SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. announced that mandated cuts in his department’s budget would require nine local SRS offices across the state to be closed. Subsequently, five of those communities, including Lawrence, were able to reach agreements to save their local offices by agreeing to pick up a substantial portion of the operating costs for those offices.
Those agreements came with a pledge from Siedlecki that he would make a “good-faith effort” to restore funding for the local offices. Although many residents and officials thought that effort would be made for the next fiscal year, Siedlecki said earlier this month he didn’t plan to pursue those funds until 2013, when the two-year agreements with the cities and counties expired. After local officials expressed dismay at that strategy, the SRS chief agreed to include the funding in his budget request for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2012.
As noted above, that is the first step. Now it is up to state legislators to follow through and make sure this funding is approved.
This is not just about Lawrence. Officials in Fort Scott, McPherson, Pratt and Marysville also were backed into a corner and had to make quick decisions to commit local tax money to preserve their SRS offices. Spending local tax money to maintain an essential state service in their communities provided a short-term solution, but it should not set a long-term policy for the state.
Certainly in Lawrence, and probably in the other four communities, local officials are willing to start working immediately with state SRS officials to try to reduce the costs of operating their local offices. With good communication and adequate lead time, those efforts can forge a positive partnership between state and local officials.
To set the stage for that partnership, however, legislators must affirm that SRS services are a state responsibility that shouldn’t be handed off selectively to local taxpayers. The legislators from the five affected communities can’t do this alone. They need the support of other legislators throughout the state who understand the importance of setting this important funding precedent not only for the state but also for their taxpaying constituents at home.