CASA of the High Plains will get a letter in the mailbox soon that it could lose some of the $18,000 in annual funding it gets from Ellis County.
And CASA isn’t the only one.
Letters are going out this week to 17 local agencies that get a portion of the $1.052 million Ellis County budgeted in 2019 for outside agencies, said Ellis County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes.
Ellis County’s three county commissioners have said for 2020 they’ll have to make some big cuts in funding to outside agencies.
“It may mean that some will get what they always got and others may get eliminated completely,” Smith-Hanes said. “It’s unpleasant for the commissioners, and for the agencies.”
Faced with more expenses than revenue, the commissioners need to trim $2 million from the county’s 2020 budget. One expense column they are eyeing is the money that goes to outside agencies.
“It’s only fair to give them warning,” Smith-Hanes said. “For a lot of these agencies, the Ellis County portion is still a big portion of their budget.”
The decisions won’t be easy, say all involved.
CASA, for example, works with Ellis County law enforcement to carry out forensic interviews of children.
And then there’s the Northwest Kansas Area Agency on Aging, 510 W. 29th St. Ellis County gives NKAAA $12,088 annually.
A support for elderly in 18 counties, each year the agency provides 41,000 meals to people in Hays, Victoria, Ellis and the county, said Michelle Morgan, executive director of NWKAAA. The agency also provides information and assistance to the elderly for everything from Medicare counseling, legal problems, sources of mobility equipment and more. It also supplies in-home help for bathing, shopping, housekeeping, laundry and other essential tasks to help people stay in their homes and communities, as well as offer a caregiver respite program.
“We came up with an estimated value to the county of $357,000,” said Morgan. All the counties served contribute a portion of the agency’s budget.
“We are required to have matching dollars,” Morgan said. “The state and feds require it — we have to show there are matching dollars in order to pull down funds from them, primarily through the Older Americans Act and passed through the Kansas Department for Aging and Disabilities Services.”
Ellis County Commissioner Butch Schlyer has previously said the county may have to cut $300,000 from the $1.052 million for outside funding. Commission Chair Dean Haselhorst, however, suggested $100,000. By discussion’s end at a recent commission meeting, the range was $150,000 to $300,000, Smith-Hanes said.
Of the 17 agencies getting Ellis County money in 2019, Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas Inc., 2703 Hall St., gets the second most. DSNWK, which recently logged 50 years of providing services to the intellectually disabled, gets $240,000 annually from Ellis County.
Much of its funding comes from Medicaid, but payment rates for services are set by the state and rarely increased, said Jerry Michaud, president.
“We approach the counties to fill the gap. It absolutely helps,” Michaud said, adding however, “The need is actually greater than the support even that we receive from the counties.”
Kansas statutes require support services for people with intellectual disabilities, he said, although the dollar amount is not specified.
“In essence it’s recognition that support of these services is essential,” he said. The agency’s annual operating budget is $15 million.
DSNWK supplies intermittent support, like helping with finances, as well as daily support, such as transportation and feeding. Without help and guidance on a daily basis from DSNWK’s 350 employees, the clients, who have cognitive disabilities, might easily take a wrong turn with their choices that could land them in jail or the emergency room, he said.
“If the funding is removed, it’s a pretty scary world,” Michaud said. “If you just stop the services, their world could go down the wrong path pretty fast. They are some of the best citizens a community could want, but they require support … and when we’re supporting people around the clock, it’s not free.”
Ellis County is where DSNWK has its largest footprint, serving 175 people. Without help, families who support a family member with intellectual disabilities really struggle, he said.
“It’s a hard life, nobody asks for that, but it’s very challenging.” Michaud said. “Prior to the community service that is provided today, the alternative was institutionalization.”
With DSNWK’s help, clients might live in group homes, get day services, or even hold a job. The agency has 64 people placed with 34 employers, including Cross Manufacturing, 901 Canterbury Dr.
A native of Ellis, 21-year-old Theron Schmidt has worked at Cross for about a year.
Theron, one of three DSNWK clients at the plant, was on the job Tuesday morning, boxing up hydraulic valves for shipping. It’s his first job, and at the end of the day, he said, “I feel accomplished and a little tired.”
Two other DSNWK employees are at Cross part-time to fold boxes, while other clients offsite at DSNWK facilities bag information about the valves to stuff into boxes and put warning labels on the valves.
“He’s a very hard worker,” said Greg Schmidt, general plant manager. “He always comes in with a big smile on his face. Everyone has kind of taken him under their wing and helped him.”
Denise Stritt, an employment specialist with DSNWK’s Employment Connections, helped train Schmidt. He in turn has trained others how to use the computers in the plant, said Schmidt.
The Ellis County Commission discussion on outside agency funding is scheduled for June 10. That’s when agencies make their pitches to the county commissioners for money. But Smith-Hanes said the issue will likely come up sooner than that.
“If they didn’t, it would be a significant nagging question,” he said.
Smith-Hanes will bring the commissioners the first round of proposals for all the budgets for the county departments on March 18.
“One of the unknowns is the outside agencies, when presenting the department budgets,” he said. “$300,000 is a significant number. We’re trying to come up with $2 million, and $300,000 is more than 10 percent of the way there.”
No doubt the commissioners will consider that there are differences from one agency to another, he said, specifically thinking of Hays’ publicly funded transportation bus.
“The Humane Society, for example, is so different from public transit. ACCESS probably has less ability to go raise money,” he said.
ACCESS gets $60,000 from the county, while the Humane Society of the High Plains, 2050 E. U.S. Highway 40, gets $4,500 a year.
“To other people it might not sound like a lot of money,” said Alicia Tripler, president of the board for the Humane Society. “But our expenses do add up and every little bit helps.”
It would hurt to lose any of the $3,385 a year the county gives the Hays Arts Council each year, said director Brenda Meder, saying “that’s a significant amount for us” as an organization that is part of the educational and cultural life of adults and children in the area.
The agency’s $135,000 annual budget keeps the lights on at 112 E. 11th St. for art shows and community events like films and concerts. But it also pays for a host of educational programs for children in Ellis and surrounding counties, said Meder, and is a show of local support that helps the council get grants elsewhere.
Art Council programming and events also draw new residents who care about quality of life when pondering a job at Fort Hays State University, Hays Medical Center and other employers, she said.
“Our organization is contributing in a lot of different ways,” Meder said. “I know they’ve got tough decisions to make, I do respect that … but we operate a pretty nice, tight non-fluffy budget and $3,385 means a great deal to us.”
Nevertheless, it looks like cuts are imminent for the outside agencies.
“I think all of these agencies do good work in the community, and whoever is running the agencies are all very passionate about their mission,” Smith-Hanes said. “I think they will be unhappy about the prospect of significantly reduced funding.”