Commission nixes social services allocation changes

By Corene Brisendine

Commissioners’ reactions to the Social Services Advisory Board request to eliminate funding for the UFM Community Learning Center scholarship program were reflected in how they voted Tuesday to keep it in the 2013 budget.

“This doesn’t make any good sense to me,” said Commissioner Jim Sherow, part of a 3-1 majority that opposed the proposed change. He asked “why was UFM picked out?” Mayor Loren Pepperd and commissioner Rich Jankovich also opposed the change, while commissioner Wynn Butler supported it. Commissioner John Matta abstained.

In July commissioners approved the 2013 budget with a 5-percent cut to all 10 social services programs. But when the decision to make those cuts was presented to the social services board by Pam Jager, budget office liaison for the SSAB, board members interpreted the action only as requiring them to reduce total spending by 5 percent, and giving them the authority to decide how to do that. As a result, the board decided to eliminate $3,000 in proposed funding for a UFM scholarship program, redistributing that allocation so the remaining programs would only face 4.2-percent cuts while preserving the 5-percent total reduction.

“We have to decide where the greater need is, and the board, after much discussion, decided the greater need was to take less from the other agencies Sarah Blair, SSAB chair,” told commissioners.

Linda Teener, executive director of UFM, said the stricken funds helped fund 46 scholarships in 2012. Those scholarships helped impoverished families — those whose annual income is less than $20,000 — provide enrichment activities for their children such as taking gymnastics classes, dance lessons and summer sports through city parks and rec.

“We were not even told we were being zeroed out until I received information from Pam,” Teener said. “We conceded there was not much hope, but given this opportunity, I would like to argue on behalf of the families.”

Teener said the scholarships were not a “handout” because they only fund 50 percent or less of the activity, meaning families still had to contribute the remaining cost in order for the child to participate. She added that UFM stopped taking applications in August because the scholarship program funds ran out. UFM also received private donations, and in 2012 that amounted to an additional $400 in scholarships.

Blair argued that the main reason the board decided to cut the scholarship program was the way the scholarship fund was administered. She said the budget for the program was difficult to predict because if the families did not come up with the remaining cost, the scholarship money was returned to the city at the end of the year. Blair said there was only one year in the past where the money was returned.

Butler said the board showed initiative in weighing what was most important and what was least important in social service funding, then making changes to the items in the budget to reflect that. He said that the board should also cut funding to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Shepherd’s Crossing, K-State Center for Child Development and Kansas Legal Services because those social service programs did not directly impact the “core services” provided by the city. The core services include the police department, fire department and utilities.

Jankovich said he didn’t necessarily have a problem with eliminating the funding, but he had a problem with the timing of the request.

“We received those funding requests in priority requests one to 10,” Jankovich said. “And that’s what we approved with a 5 percent reduction. That’s what should be published because that’s what our minutes reflect.”

He said if the request had come in initially with UFM not being funded, the vote would have probably been the same in July. But since the request to eliminate funding was after the fact, he did not see supporting the changes.

Pepperd said he interpreted the commission’s July decision as calling for across-the-board cuts, including the UFM scholarship program, and did not see a reason to change that decision.

Matta said he abstained because he never supported the budget as passed by the commission and did not support funding the social services.

Agency reviews

After the vote, the commission returned to work session reviews of several aspects of the SSAB, the Special Alcohol and Drug Programs Fund Committee and the Municipal Band Advisory Board. Commissioners also received an update on the airport terminal remodel and expansion. The social services board was still a hot topic among commissioners.

Butler made several suggestions to change the board, including reducing the number of members from 15 to 9; setting a “hard baseline” in funds; and limiting the social services to those that directly impact the city.

The current board has no set membership limit, and no baseline or ceiling for funding. Butler said the problem with funding social services is that the board is “locked in a closet” when trying to determine the projected need. He said the board should be given a specific dollar amount, suggesting it be no less than a half a mill equivalent, or a specific amount.

“Let’s put a floor on it,” Butler said. “The end result would be to take care of those services that are absolutely vital — that we cannot allow to go under, like the Manhattan emergency shelter, and the crisis center, and budget them at a logical level.”

Pepperd said setting a half a mill base would not make the budget process for social services better. He said the needs of the community change from year to year, and therefore the budget for that would also change.

Blair said each time the board receives a request for funding, it prioritizes that request. In making that decision, she said the board members go to the various agencies and discuss how the city funding helps provide services and brings more funding into the community. As for the suggestion to reduce the board’s number, Blair said that would hinder the ability of the board to function. She noted that in the spring, the board divides into teams of two or three to visit all the agencies that applied for funding. Without the current number of board members, she said the board would be hard-pressed to visit all the agencies in a timely manner.

Pepperd said he did not think limiting the ability of agencies to apply for funding was the will of the citizens of Manhattan.

“Looking at the way Manhattan voted for the half-cent sales tax, and looking at the way Manhattan voted in the elections…I think the will of Manhattan is to support social services,” Pepperd said.

No action was taken on the organization of the SSAB, but Ron Fehr, city manager, is expected to bring proposed changes back to the commission at a later date.

The discussion of the band board was to move it from reporting directly to the commission to reporting to Curt Loupe, director of parks and recs. Loupe said he thought that was a good decision since the funding for the band had already been moved to his department.

The discussion of the Special Alcohol and Drug Programs Fund Committee centered on the possibility of the funding being cut by the state.

“Just because we got the drug and alcohol fund this year, doesn’t mean we will get it next year,” Pepperd said. “It is at the will of the governor and the legislature that it provides it. I’m just saying beware.”

Elaine Johannes, chair of the special alcohol board, told commissioners that the funds, $498,108 in 2012, were shifted from providing more educational and prevention materials to the city to providing more treatment to the community.

Butler said he thinks there is a “disconnect on guidance on the way the board is thinking and the way others are thinking.” He said the Riley County Police Department doesn’t want to put drug and alcohol offenders in jail, and the law board would rather turn those people over to Pawnee Mental Health for other services. The problem, he said, is that the police department does not have the funding to facilitate those services. On the other hand, the special alcohol board does have that funding, but may not be aware of the police department’s problem with funding that kind of program. As a result, he suggested the alcohol board provide more funding to Pawnee Mental Health and less to USD 383 for preventative services.

The final item on the agenda was an update to the design of the airport terminal expansion. Herb Jenson, project manager for Mead and Hunt, gave a presentation on how the project will proceed following meeting with the Federal Aviation Association.

Jenson said the FAA suggested the expansion and remodel be done in two phases rather than four as originally proposed. That would save the city an estimated $149,775. Also, the project would be completed in about two years.

Fehr cautioned commissioners about the grants to help pay for the airport expansion. He said that while the expansion qualified for grants to cover 75 percent of the cost, that did not necessarily mean the city would get the entire amount. The projected cost of the expansion is about $11.5 million, which does not include the 2030 addition or the parking lot expansion.

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