Monthly Archives: June 2011

County manager jokes about “Richard Ranzau Memorial Grants Page”

A serious topic got a good laugh today at a meeting between Sedgwick County commissioners and county staff.

Sedgwick County has created a page on its website, www.sedgwickcounty.org, that gives residents information about grants the county receives and uses to provide services.

County Manager William Buchanan jokingly called it the “Richard Ranzau Memorial Grants Page.”

Commissioner Richard Ranzau has consistently voted against accepting federal grant dollars, concerned about the nation’s debt.

Ranzau later referred to the page, asking Buchanan “What did you call it? The Richard Ranzau. . . “

Buchanan answered “That was the bad manager. The good manager has second thoughts.”

Everyone in the room laughed.

Commissioner suggests sending state note reminding them to track taxpayer money

Sedgwick County commissioner Richard Ranzau this morning suggested sending the Kansas Department of Health and Environment a note asking the state to keep better track of taxpayer money.

Ranzau was referring to roughly $427,000 that KDHE overpaid to the county for the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

The county discovered earlier this year that the state had overpaid and tried to send the money back. The county says it was unable to convince KDHE that it owed the state the money.

Then recently, a KDHE audit discovered the county did in fact receive more money than it was supposed to.

With government at every level — local, state and federal — scrambling for funding, Ranzau said it’s hard to tell taxpayers that $427,000 was missing.

He said he realized the county must send the money back, but he suggested doing so with a note reminding the state to keep better track of money.

Governor rallies prison ministries in effort to reduce recidivism

Gov. Sam Brownback addresses prison ministry supporters.

Gov. Sam Brownback told a group of prison ministry supporters today that he has high hopes that matching outgoing inmates with faith-driven mentors will cut the number of offenders who return to prison.

At the Out 4 Life conference in Wichita, Brownback said it’s his goal to match every exiting inmate – about 5,000 a year – with a mentor to help him or her re-enter society as smoothly as possible.

“This is serious, it’s going to be tough,” Brownback said. “But it’s going to be critically important. We get it right, the cost to the state goes down, crime goes down in the state.”

But the governor did acknowledge there are risks.

“We get it wrong, people will say, ‘Well that’s all this kind of soft-headed stuff with prisons. Just lock them up and throw the key away, that’s what I told you you ought to do in the first place,’” Brownback said.

The Out 4 Life conference is being presented by Prison Fellowship, a nationwide group that promotes ministry in prisons and church support for offenders after their release.

The main purpose is to unite prison ministry groups across the state into a network of six regions, to work with corrections and social-service staff to help ex-offenders in their areas.

While promising cooperation from his Corrections and Social and Rehabilitation Services departments, Brownback warned that there probably won’t be much if any new state or federal money for programs because of ongoing budget crises.

In a question-and-answer session with the governor, several of the prison ministry advocates identified issues they face when helping return offenders to the community.

Among those are addiction problems and reductions in prison-education programs that help inmates earn their high-school general equivalency diplomas.

One of the advocates told the governor that former prisoners have a lot of trouble getting driver’s licenses, especially now that birth certificates are required.

Brownback said he hadn’t thought of that and would having his staff examine the possibility of issuing restricted licenses based on prison ID, to allow ex-offenders to drive to and from work only.

Micheal Dean, a former inmate who now works for My Friend’s House, a Christian social service group in Sabetha, drew several rounds of applause when he told Brownback how the mentoring he received turned his life around.

“I don’t want to be recovered, I want to be delivered, from alcoholism and this drug addiction that we talk about that’s sin,” he said. “I believe that Jesus Christ is the answer to all of our problems.”

“I do think that this budget situation is the best thing that could happen to the state of Kansas for this reason: It’s made the churches step up and do what the church is supposed to be doing,” Dean added. “Thank you for what you’re doing, thank you for your faith in Jesus Christ.”

In reply, Brownback emphasized that the program is not for Christians only.

“Obviously as a state we don’t put forward a faith position,” Brownback said. “What we’re asking is for people of heart in all faiths and people of good will to come forward and help out with this.

“And what we’re also saying is we’re not excluding people of faith. That’s the important piece about it, is that we want to engage people and we want to engage them at the heart level.”

Of the approximately 5,000 inmates released last year, nearly 1,100 were returned to prison on violations of their conditions of release, said Brownback’s Corrections Secretary, Ray Roberts.

About 750 of those cases involved drug abuse, he said.

Brownback said the purpose and measure of the mentoring initiative is to get those numbers down.

“You know what the target is here, it’s reduction in recidivism rates,” Brownback said. “So we’re shooting for a hard number that is known today and will be known next year. “So we can have a lot of good conferences and people feel good about it. But if it doesn’t drop the recidivism rate, the effort’s probably going to be discontinued and we’ll try something else.”

Earlier, Roberts opened the conference quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

“To change someone, you must first love them and they must know that they are loved,” Roberts said, invoking the civil rights icon as he encouraged the Christian activists to increase their efforts to help offenders turn their lives around and successfully re-enter society.

“I think the volunteers are in a particularly good role or good position to carry that out,” he said. “They are in a unique position to kind of reach beyond the bounds of a prison cell and ignite an inmate’s or an offender’s will to turn their life around.”

Roberts said he’s putting safeguards in place to ensure that offenders who may not be completely reformed don’t try to victimize their mentors.

In cases where that could be a concern, he said, the mentoring could be done in a group setting and/or in a controlled environment, such as a local parole office.

Roberts said faith-based efforts have already had an impact in Kansas and his goal is to expand it under Brownback, who has a strong interest in partnering with faith-based groups in several areas of government service.

“Although we don’t have a lot of money in our system right now, we can be innovative and over the years we’ve done things like build spiritual life centers (in prisons) that didn’t cost any money for the state,” Roberts said. “Even though we’re in a hard patch financially, we’re not going to let budget restraints create an opportunity for us to stop moving in the direction we need to move.”

Roberts called on the Christian groups to form a strong coalition of volunteers across the state.

“During the conference members of my staff will work with you to do some brainstorming and to look at some ways to network, so that we can be successful in helping to transform the lives of offenders and those of their families,” Roberts said. “Together we can and will make a long-lasting difference, not only in our communities but for the greater good of our society as a whole.”

Regents raise tuition across the state university system

TOPEKA — The Kansas Board of Regents has just approved substantial increases in tuition for all state universities.

Regents said the increases are necessary to offset a $10 million cut in state support and $13 million in unavoidable cost increases, mostly in insurance rates.

Increases for resident undergraduates range from 4 percent at Kansas State and Fort Hays State universities, to 6.9 percent at Emporia State.

Other increases include: Wichita State, 6 percent; Pittsburg State, 6.8 percent; and University of Kansas, 5-6.2 percent depending on the campus and program.

Regents expressed a high level of frustration with the Legislature. “Everything is going up except state funding,” said Regent Dan Lykins of Topeka.

“It feels like we used to have a partner in this process and they’ve left,” said Regent Christine Downey-Schmidt of Inman.

She said if the Legislature had provided $26 million more in funding, there would have been no tuition increase.

“I hope that shows up in a headline somewhere,” she said.

Regents vote to raise the cost of taking the high-school equivalency test

TOPEKA — The cost of not finishing high school is going up.

With some regrets, Kansas regents today approved a 25 percent increase in the cost of taking the General Educational Development exam. Under the board’s action, the price for taking the GED will rise from $68 to $85 as of July 1.

The measure passed unanimously after less than three minutes of discussion.

But one regent said after the meeting that he’d wished he’d asked more questions, given the fragile economy and the fact that many GED takers are very-low-income people trying to improve their employability in the tight job market.

“I messed up,” said Regent Jerry Boettcher, of Manhattan. “This is another barrier. We should be trying to remove barriers. In hard times, we ought to do everything we can to enable people to get their GED.”

He said he had intended to ask how much money the increased testing fee would generate, and if it were only a small amount, whether there might be a way to divert money from elsewhere in the budget to keep the testing fee at its current level.

Regents’ staff today could not determine how many people have taken the test or project how much money would come from increasing the fee.

Last year, 1,311 individuals passed the test in Kansas, said board spokesman Kip Peterson.

Had they paid the higher fee, it would have generated slightly less than $23,000 in additional revenue.

But despite his misgivings, Boettcher said “it’s a done deal and I don’t think it’s likely to be reconsidered.”

Gary Alexander, vice president of academic affairs for the regents, said the price increase was prompted by increases in the cost of giving the test.

“One is that our vendor who scores the paper tests is raising his rates and we have no other options,” Alexander said. “And the national GED testing service is also looking to increase its rates for the fiscal year 2012 contract year.”

The GED, also known as the general equivalency diploma, is a battery of tests that allow people who didn’t finish high school to demonstrate their proficiency in the skills required of a high-school graduate. The five tests include math, reading, writing, science and social studies.

Passing the GED is accepted as equal to a high-school education by about 95 percent of employers and colleges across the country, according to the American Council on Education, which administers the test nationwide.

In addition to setting the price of taking the test, the regents also reset the cost of retaking it.

Local agencies that perform the testing will be allowed to charge $75 to $85 for retests. Regent Janie Perkins said she strongly supported giving local testing stations the option of a lower fee for retests.

“I really like the range on retaking,” she said during the meeting. “A lot of times, they may pass two sections of it and may be only lacking the one, so hopefully, this way, a lot of individuals will go back and finish up.”

After the meeting, she said she voted for the increase because it marks a balance between keeping costs low and still being able to run an effective program.

She said at the testing center in her hometown of Garden City, “I know that they make every effort to help individuals who can’t pay the fee.”

The regents meeting will continue Thursday morning, with the board scheduled to finalize tuition increases throughout the state university system to offset a $10 million cut in state support and $13 million in cost increases.

The proposed tuition increases for resident undergraduates range from 4 percent at Kansas State and Fort Hays State universities, to 6.9 percent at Emporia State.

Other proposed increases include: Wichita State, 6 percent; Pittsburg State, 6.8 percent; and University of Kansas, 5-6.2 percent depending on the campus and program.

The board is also expected to approve similar increases for graduate students.

Wichita will pay to learn what community wants from bus system

Wichita transit officials will contract with a firm to conduct surveys and outreach to learn more about what Wichitans want from the city bus system.

Wichita City Council members approved an $87,000 contract with Olsson Associates on Tuesday.

The city paid for 20 percent of the contract. Federal grants picked up the rest.

The move comes as the transit system faces deficits and is considering raising fares and eliminating Saturday service.

But transit officials say previous surveys indicate people want better service, and a University of Kansas report recommended more routes and extended hours.

Depending on public input, the city may consider a voter referendum to use a small portion of sales tax money to help improve the bus system.

The report will probably come out in December.

Wichita council approves spending to create bike path master plan

Wichita is on track to create a new master plan for bike paths throughout the city and region.

City Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved spending almost $195,000 in federal grant money to pay the Toole Design Group to create the plan.

The group will examine past plans, proposals and existing trails and come up with options to add more miles of paths and improve connectivity of trail systems.

That will include an analysis of the best ways to keep bikers safe and provide easy travel.

The plan will likely be completed by the end of September 2012.

Wichita Police beef up their arsenal

The Wichita Police department will buy 36 powerful rifles to better equip patrol officers at a time when police say they’re facing more well-armed criminals.

Wichita City Council members this morning voted unanimously to spend about $64,000 in federal grant money on Colt LE6944 rifles, 50,000 rounds of training ammunition, 4,000 rounds of duty ammunition and other accessories.

Police Chief Norman Williams said the city now has rifles that are reserved for the department’s 20 SWAT team members. The SWAT team is comprised of a variety of officers and detectives, and they have their rifles available during their normal daily duties.

Williams told council members that incidents in Wichita and across the country show the rifles can help police in situations where criminals have rifles or are at long ranges where handguns prove inaccurate.

Wichita transit system plans to raise fares, cancel Saturday service

Wichita’s transit system faces a million dollar budget shortfall, and it proposes fixing the problem by raising fares by 50 cents, hiking paratransit rides for people with disabilities by $1 and eliminating bus service on Saturdays.

The move could affect the personal budgets of hundreds of people who are already struggling financially, and it could create problems for people who depend on city buses to get to work on Saturdays. City buses provide 182,000 rides a year on Saturdays —and, last year, gave 2.2 million rides overall.

City officials have said they have few options. The city faces a $1.5 million shortfall this year in addition to the transit system struggles, making it unpalatable to transfer money to the transit system from other funds.

City transit officials are inviting people to a public hearing on the proposed fare increase and service changes at 6:30 p.m.  Thursday, June 23, in the city council chambers at 455 N. Main. They will also accept input by mail at Wichita Transit, 777 E. Waterman, Wichita, KS 67202 or by phone at 265-1450.

Read More »

Sedgwick County commissioners defer vote on crime prevention grant funding

Sedgwick County commissioners put off for a week a decision about whether to cut funding to groups such as Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters due to a reduction in money from the state.

The county is getting about $620,000 less for next year from the state in crime prevention funding, which it in turn hands out to groups that aim to keep young people out of jail.

Staff recommended reducing grants to some groups and eliminating all funding to others, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Commissioner Jim Skelton moved to defer a vote for a week. He said he has some ideas about how to make up funding that he wants to discuss.

The Eagle and Kansas.com first reported on the proposed cuts Monday.

Stay on Kansas.com today for more information.