City and county agree to fund outside review of homeless shelter’s operations and finances
photo by: Mike Yoder
Lawrence city leaders have decided to provide the homeless shelter some of its annual funding early while at the same time ordering an independent analysis of the shelter’s finances.
As part of its meeting this week, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to provide the Lawrence Community Shelter all of its 2019 funding now — a total of $200,000 — to alleviate budgetary pressure. Commissioners also agreed that the city would pay up to $15,150 for a consulting firm, SS&C Solutions, to assess the shelter’s operations and finances, develop a strategic plan and provide search services for the shelter’s new executive director.
Typically, the city breaks the shelter’s funding into two payments throughout the year, one in April and the other in October, and before the vote Commissioner Matthew Herbert expressed some concern that providing the shelter all of its funding upfront may ultimately mean that the shelter will run out of funding later in the year.
“My concern is that it appears that the money is necessary for budgetary shortfalls, but without an actual action plan for sustainability, we have no assurance that, come October, there won’t be the need for additional funds,” Herbert said.
The Douglas County Commission also voted as part of its meeting this week to provide up to $15,150 to pay SS&C Solutions for assessment, planning and executive search services for the shelter. The contract, which is between the city, county and SS&C Solutions, estimates that the work will take about four months and be complete by May 15.
In response to Herbert, Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay said that the intention is to have a plan to address the shelter’s budget issues in coming months. Specifically, Toomay said that the consultant would provide a short-term plan to fix the shelter’s budget shortfall for 2019 and then provide a longer-range financial plan for the next three to five years. Toomay said providing the shelter all of its 2019 funding up front will allow the staff to better focus on those plans.
“The concept of fronting the money, both the city and the county felt that would alleviate some of the pressure of meeting those month-to-month expenses, so that folks at the community shelter could work with the consultant that we’re recommending on figuring out how to shore up their finances,” Toomay said.
City Manager Tom Markus added that the idea is to defer any decisions about increasing funding for the shelter until an independent review of the shelter’s financial and management situation can be done. He said not providing the money now could create additional turmoil, and the idea is that once the financial analysis is complete, the consultants will provide metrics for how much the city and county should need to contribute toward the shelter’s operations.
Markus noted that the city and county are the entities involved in the contract, but that the consultants will be interviewing shelter staff and the shelter’s books will have to be open for review. He said he thinks providing the 2019 funding upfront, rather than committing to an increase in funding while the financial analysis is being conducted, sends a message.
“I think it sends a very strong message to the staff over there that the city and the county are obviously taking a very hard look at this and providing the funding so that (the shelter) can continue for its immediate future while we do additional due diligence as to how this thing should operate and what our participation levels should be,” Markus said. “There’s no easy answer here.”
Markus added that the shelter has an important role in the community and if it is to continue, he thinks it will take funding from the city. He said the question is how much that funding would be, and that those metrics needed to be independently established.