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SOS files petitions to fund social services

By Burk Krohe

Save Our Social Services (S.O.S), a group of citizens advocating city funding for social services, has submitted petitions it hopes will force the City Commission to devote a specific percentage of general fund revenues to that purpose.

The petition has three essential components. First, it would keep the Social Services Advisory Board (SSAB) as the group responsible for making funding recommendations to the City Commission. Second, it would require the city to spend 2 percent of the general fund on social services funding each year. Third, it would require unallocated funds to be carried over for future social services spending.

For the petition to be valid, S.O.S must have collected 1,494 signatures by registered voters. The number comes from a calculated percentage of the electorate. Debbi Nuss, of S.O.S, said the group collected about 1,800 signatures. The first signatures were collected on Nov. 9, 2011 and from that date, S.O.S had 180 days to collect the necessary signatures.

Nuss said the group is confident it collected the necessary number.

“We felt there was strong support in the community,” Nuss said. “People were willing to sign and people contacted us and asked to sign.

The signatures still have to be validated by Rich Vargo, the Riley County clerk, who will weed out duplicated signatures, unregistered voters and non-residents. Vargo indicated the process will take until next week.

If the signatures are valid, the petition ordinance will go to the City Commission, which would have 20 days to either adopt it or put it to a public vote. A similar process was used to pass the city’s smoking ban several years ago.

The upcoming August primary is a county election, therefore it would not cost the city any additional funds to put the referendum on the ballot. However, if it goes to a special election, the city would be responsible for the entire cost of it…possibly thousands of dollars.

Nuss said S.O.S would encourage the City Commission to enact the ordinance.

She said commissioners should take the signatures as a sign the community supports city-supported social services and that funding of those services relies on a combination of city funds and private donations.

But if previous talks are any indication, S.O.S will be hard-pressed to find support from the Commission. Mayor Loren Pepperd and Commissioners Wynn Butler and John Matta have been vocal about controlling the city’s budget. Butler and Matta have also supported the possibility of gradually reducing city funding for social services. 

Butler in particular has made it clear that he will not vote for such an ordinance. He said he prefers a “paradigm shift” in social services funding and sees several problems with the petition.

Butler said he likes the idea of a foundation, which would leverage private funds, as opposed to city funding. He said it seems more like a more reasonable, long-term solution.

“We’re prepared to campaign,” Nuss said.

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