Topeka Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. said Monday that decisions by communities, such as Lawrence, to pay to keep open the local SRS office represent “the essence of local control.”
Talking to the House-Senate Health Policy Oversight Committee, Siedlecki also said he wouldn’t recommend any more office closures.
He said of nine SRS offices that he targeted on July 1 for closure, SRS reached agreements with five communities to keep the offices open for at least two years.
“I believe that allowing local communities to decide they want to preserve at their own expense an office that the state can no longer afford to maintain represents the essence of local control, and I am proud of the agreements,” he said.
The five that avoided closure were in Lawrence, Fort Scott, Marysville, McPherson and Pratt. The SRS offices closed were in Coffeyville, Garnett, Lyndon and Wellington.
Lawrence was by far the largest office targeted for closure. City and county officials agreed to pay $450,000 over two years to keep the office open.
State Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, thanked Siedlecki for taking steps to control state spending.
Siedlecki said he “reached out to communities” to see if they wanted to keep their office open.
But state Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said, “Lawrence approached you. It wasn’t that you did an outreach.”
Siedlecki said the closures were needed to comply with budget cuts by the Legislature. But state Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said SRS didn’t fight the reductions during budget negotiations last legislative session. And, she said, SRS never provided the Legislature with a list of which offices might be closed if the cuts were enacted.
Siedlecki said there would be no more proposed office closures over the next two years. He also repeated what SRS officials had said earlier: that Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration would not propose closing the Kansas Neurological Institute, which it tried to do last session but was rebuffed by the Legislature.