Partnering agencies discuss ramifications of possible county budget cuts

photo by: Journal-World Graphic

The Douglas County Commission meets in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

Representatives from six partnering agencies that could potentially have their funding cut told Douglas County commissioners on Tuesday that county support was important in allowing them to provide needed services to residents.

Commissioners didn’t disagree.

“We knew they were important when we funded them,” Commissioner Mike Gaughan said. But he said everything in the 2019 budget was on the table as commissioners looked for money to address overcrowding at the county jail.

But it wasn’t clear what the immediate ramifications would be from a county funding cut, since some nonprofits might have the ability to partner with other organizations to continue offering services, or, in some cases, nonprofits have reserve funds that could be tapped temporarily.

A county funding cut to social service agencies also is not a done deal. The partnering agency cuts discussed on the second day of the 2019 budget hearings Tuesday aren’t among the $3.12 million spending reductions that were recommended in the 2019 budget that County Administrator Craig Weinaug presented to commissioners last week as a way to address overcrowding at the county jail. Rather, cuts to the six agencies are listed with another 21 optional cuts or fee increases totaling $1.2 million for commissioners to consider.

The six partnering agencies and amounts of possible cuts are:

• Cottonwood Inc., $50,000.

• Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, $10,000.

• Douglas County Fair board, $2,000.

• Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association, $28,000.

• Lawrence Humane Society, $15,000.

• Douglas County Senior Resource Center, $50,000.

In her remarks to commissioners, Jean Stueve, fiscal manager for Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, said the agency could absorb the cut through the use of reserves in 2019.

Weinaug said the strength of reserves was a factor in his recommendations, noting that Cottonwood is projected to have a 2019 year-end fund balance of $5.65 million and Visiting Nurses to have a balance of $117,000.

Marvel Williamson, executive director of the Senior Resource Center, said she would recommend that her board end the agency’s home-delivered meal program if the commissioners followed through with the cut to her agency. There has been a steep decline in the number of meals her agency delivers because of the many options available to seniors, including two programs Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging offers, and the many food pantries in the county.

Her agency would still focus on senior nutrition if it did stop delivering home meals, Williamson said. The agency would work with seniors about how to access food options in the county, including helping them fill out the needed paperwork.

“We are not abandoning seniors,” she said. “We are not going to let them go hungry.”

Williamson also requested that the county provide $25,000 to help the Senior Resource Center move back into its home at 745 Vermont St. when renovations are completed there early in 2019. The SRC has relocated its offices to the Peaslee Technical Training Center during the renovation work.

Commissioners took a break from the focus on cuts late Tuesday morning to hear presentations on new spending proposals that will expand on alternatives to incarceration introduced over the last two years and build on the behavioral health initiatives started this year. The budget that Weinaug presented recommends:

• A $183,000 program to provide individual and group drug abuse counseling in the county jail that would continue through DCCCA when inmates are released.

• The hiring of one additional full-time staff member and expansion of two half-time positions to full-time in Douglas County Criminal Justice Services at the cost of $109,866. They will work with those released from jail through the pretrial release and home arrest programs and the behavioral health court.

• Introduction of a $75,000 program that will provide out-of-county substance abuse treatment for uninsured males.

Commissioners sought clarification on the $400,000 allocated last year to help Lawrence Memorial Hospital develop a behavioral health crisis intervention center within the hospital. That money wasn’t spent because LMH couldn’t get the needed permits from the state. The hospital instead added emergency room beds that are dedicated for those experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said commissioners needed to discuss whether the $400,000 should be folded into a continuing $1.9 million annual behavioral health allocation as was the intent when it was budgeted a year ago.

The commission’s budget hearings will resume at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the Douglas County Courthouse.


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