Community needs are increasing, but the amount of funding to meet those needs is decreasing. That was a common theme during Monday night’s Ellis County Commission meeting as outside agencies presented funding requests for the 2017 budget.
The commission heard 15 funding requests from local agencies that provide public services to Ellis County residents. Most of the agencies requested the same amount as last year, while two agencies are seeking more money. The commission also heard two requests for services that have not previously received county funds.
In 2016, Ellis County budgeted a total of approximately $1.3 million. The total requests for this year come in approximately $113,700 higher.
Commissioner Barbara Wasinger expressed sympathy to the agencies, many of which are grappling with state budget cuts, but said the county is in a difficult position.
“It’s hard to tell my staff — the elected officials, the department heads — to cut their budgets by 3 percent and not do that to the rest of them,” Wasinger said.
“Unfortunately, it’s not looking rosy with our fundings, and I can’t in good conscience give a lot of money.
“The hardest part about listening to these is, ‘Gosh, that’s such a great cause.’ … By the end, I’m thinking to myself to personally get my checkbook out.”
The requests will be discussed further at a special work session to finalize the 2017 budget at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Ellis County Administrative Center.
Several human services agencies — such as High Plains Mental Health Center, Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas, Access Transportation and Hays Area Children’s Center — discussed struggles with significant state funding cuts.
The number of patients seeking services from High Plains increased by 11 percent last year alone. During the past several years, the amount of state funding received has decreased by $1.5 million. Additional cuts are expected, as the state has decided to reduce Medicaid reimbursements beginning July 1, said Executive Director Walt Hill.
“I think it’s going to be more and more challenging to provide the level of support and services with the amount of subsidy,” Hill said. “We recognize the challenges that all our counties are facing, particularly half a dozen counties with higher oil production and revenues.”
It’s a similar situation at DSNWK, which has seen funding stay flat for many years in spite of increased costs, and is bracing for the Medicaid reductions, President Jerry Michaud said.
The only organizations seeking more money were Access Transportation, which noted a significant reduction in state funding, and the Ellis County Historical Society.
That agency is seeking an increase of approximately $74,000 from last year’s allocation.
Director Lee Dobratz said she would like to shore up public funding to cover the organization’s operating costs. The agency also is seeking a significant increase in funding from the city of Hays.
“Public funding in museums … is really expected to pay for basic and usual business expenses: Overhead, any kind of rental, salaries, supplies, basic things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with our specific area of business,” she said. “Anything that deals with our specific area of business, such as … exhibitions, special funding needing to provide supplies for curation or archives, is all anticipated to come through fundraising.”
Humane Society of the High Plains requested slightly less funding than last year, with officials saying they had endeavored to make cuts.
New requests were heard for the celebration of Ellis County’s sesquicentennial, as well as a $20,000 request for a new agency, Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center.
The agency recently acquired the former Quizno’s location at 135 W. Eighth and provides services to children who are victims of abuse.
WKCAC serves all of western Kansas. Its services include therapy, court prep, advocacy and forensic interviews, which are valuable in court, said Vicki Hubin, project coordinator.
“We work with physically or sexually abused children, or children who have witnessed a violent crime,” Hubin said.
“When there’s an allegation of physical or sexual abuse on a child, DCF or law enforcement call us in. We’re the experts when it comes to child sexual abuse and physical abuse.”
The agency requested $20,000, but said an allocation of $9,000 would be appreciated to help cover traveling expenses. The organization has headquarters in Scott City in addition to its new Hays office.
In other business, commissioners:
• Canvassed votes from last week’s special USD 489 election.
• Instructed Ellis County Fire Chief Darin Myers to solicit additional proposals for a new department vehicle.
• Heard an annual report from High Plains.