Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore on Thursday sought to assure local leaders that Gov. Sam Brownback's budget would not reduce services and there was no move to close the local office.
But Douglas County officials expressed skepticism and concern that budget cuts at the state level would throw costs and responsibilities onto local governments.
"There is no intention to cut services," said Gilmore in a meeting at the DCF office at 1901 Delaware St.
Asked if there would be any proposals from the Brownback administration to shut down local DCF offices, Gilmore said, "Nothing has been put on the table related to office closures."
Gilmore said the agency had complied with a Brownback administration directive to submit a budget proposal to Brownback to cut spending by 10 percent.
But she expressed confidence Brownback wouldn't recommend a 10 percent cut to the Legislature when the 2013 session starts in January. Even if he did, the 10 percent cut would be accomplished through cost-cutting moves at DCF headquarters in Topeka and not impact other programs overseen by the agency, Gilmore said. She and other members of her staff said possible savings could be realized in information technology, mail processing and telephone systems. Gilmore said there were no plans for major layoffs.
The agency — formerly known as the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and recently reorganized — is responsible for child protection, food assistance, child support services and work rehabilitation programs.
Several local officials said they were concerned about any budget cuts, and that they were worried that Brownback would cut programs or staff without input from local officials.
"The history to date, is that we haven't been consulted," said Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug, noting that the Brownback administration in July 2011 proposed closing the local SRS office without discussing the issue beforehand with local officials. Brownback later backed off the proposal after a huge public outcry.
Weinaug said Brownback's veto earlier this year of funding for an environmental program that provided grants to local governments to help enforce, inspect and monitor water and wastewater systems, was another example of the administration acting without local input. That veto meant Douglas County has to come up with an additional $40,000 per year to continue the program.
And Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said the state also stopped helping with a truancy diversion program after several SRS staff members retired. Gilmore's staff said it was checking into the details of the truancy program.
Gilmore said some of the changes in social welfare spending weren't because of a lack of funding but had to do with philosophy. Later, she said, "I view our services, our benefits as a bridge. I really believe that people need to be — and I don't want to sound melodramatic — set free of the encumbrances of being dependent on the government."
Kansas Department of Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore will meet with community leaders and DCF staff in Lawrence on Thursday as concerns continue to rise about next year's budget.
Gilmore, Deputy Secretary Kathe Decker, Deputy Secretary Anna Pilato and DCF Family Service program directors are scheduled to be at the Lawrence DCF office, 1901 Delaware, at 9:15 a.m.
I plan on covering the visit. Douglas County residents probably recall that Gilmore's predecessor Rob Siedlecki had proposed in July 2011 that the agency — then called the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services — shut down offices in Lawrence and several other towns as a cost-cutting move. That plan was later abandoned by the administration after a huge public outcry.
But this year, Gov. Sam Brownback has directed state agencies propose 10 percent cuts when submitting their budget requests. Brownback has said the directive is part of the budget planning process.
Gilmore has said she has complied with the directive by proposing cuts to operational and administrative costs. Gilmore and her group also plan Thursday visits at DCF offices in Overland Park, Kansas City, and Leavenworth before hitting Atchison, Hiawatha and Concordia on Friday.