Legislators Meet With Saline County Officials

The State Legislature won’t convene until January, but county officials began sharing issues and concerns with area legislators on Tuesday.

Senator Tom Arpke, and Representatives JR Claeys, Diana Dierks, and Steven Johnson joined all five Saline County Commissioners and many department heads in a ninety minute discussion.

Community Corrections Director, Annie Grevas, started by expressing her appreciation to the Legislators who have been supportive of community supervision. Her staff is making progress serving clients with duel diagnoses of mental illness and substance abuse. She asked Legislators to create a State framework for “Drug Court”, which operates to keep addicts out of prison.

Claeys commented that “a lot of programs cost money upfront but save money in the long run”. He cited a program started in Wyandot County that is now being piloted across the state. County Chairman Monte Shadwick noted that “incarcerating people is the most expensive way to treat them”. Dierks noted that returning military often have PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) and may start taking drugs when they don’t know how else to cope.

The need for mentoring programs was frequently mentioned; Dierks said that if parents can “get it together, they can help their kids”. Grevas noted that dollars intended for prevention services in children have shrunk. Years ago, she remembered six programs were funded; now, only CAPS remains.

County Attorney Ellen Mitchell noted that the community intervention program and first time marijuana offender programs keep kids from being charged if they successfully complete the program. She also noted that Salina’s restorative justice program requires juveniles to face those harmed by their actions. They realize that intentionally breaking a car window may have caused the owner to miss work and pay repair costs.

County Commissioner John Price attributed the problems to “lack of parenting”. Grevas said “times have changed; research has shown prevention at ages 3-5 and 5-7 has significant impact” on reducing juvenile delinquency and the prison population.

County Commissioner Dave Smith asked if mentors were paid or volunteers. Grevas said they volunteer, but must complete training based on a state model. She noted a challenge in finding mentors; saying “clients aren’t that accepting”, some feel “watched” or “burdened”. Smith wondered if “jail had become too convenient and comfortable”.

Health Department Coordinator Jason Tiller described a need for a different kind of volunteerism to provide summer meals to children. Most of the programs are located in neighborhoods with economic issues. Saline County had nine meal sites that varied in duration and capacity. Tiller noted that when children go hungry, it can have long term impacts on intelligence.

Tiller identified the root cause as poverty that results in a generational gap. If food is prepared at home, children see it made in microwaves. Children watch “adult theme” television and mimic what they see. Smith commented that “we’ve lost our moral base”.

Clayes noted that as he has gone door-to-door, parents are at work, noting there are fewer 40 hour/week “family sustaining” jobs. He noted that what parents want most is “time to spend with their kids”. Commissioner Luci Larson said she knew of individuals who accept low wage work because the jobs offer flexibility to attend a child’s dental visits and ball games.

Mitchell said the new KBI facility will draw more people to employment, but noted the State needs to pay scientists and lab technicians appropriately, or else they will leave the state for better paying jobs. Claeys said KBI does not make a budget request and noted they “don’t even come in and ask for money”.

Kansas Highway Troopers will begin receiving a 10% salary increase in January. Unfortunately, such an adjustment was not made for KBI staff who are umbrellaed under a different agency. Nor can a trooper transfer to KBI without starting at the bottom of the salary schedule. Claeys noted that the Legislature needs to look at salaries at KBI and Corrections. Both Johnson and Sedgwick Counties have opened their own crime labs as the state is not able to keep up.

Mitchell noted that a large part of the jail population results from the State shifting the burden to local jails. She said the State might penalize a county if they send an individual to prison on a “technical violation”. But, if the county is successful in using a probation diversion program, the savings of not sending an individual to prison isn’t returned to the county.

Decreasing State Funding

County Administrator Rita Deister noted that the county is being asked to provide more services. Last year, the Legislature voted that if a county has to raise taxes, they must seek approval in an election. There was speculation that when the Senate was debating that bill, one Senator insisted on inserting this provision. Shadwick noted that State Legislators don’t like it when Federal officials make changes that impact the State and yet the State Legislature did just that when it passed this measure. Arpke encouraged the Commission to write him a letter outlining their concerns.

County Register of Deeds, Rebecca Seeman provided information on how the Legislature’s recent changes have impacted the fees her department collects. Deputy County Appraiser, Sean Robertson spoke about the Legislature’s decision to value property at a reduced level for two years, when the owner successfully prevails in appealing the initial appraised property value.

Commissioners also brought up concerns that when not-for-profit entities (like Salina Regional Health Center) purchase property that had once served as a business establishment (like Sunflower Bank), that property is removed from tax rolls.

Commissioners Shadwick and Smith complained about the way the County is required to keep financial records, saying the “State mandates” a form of accounting that individuals in the private sector do not use. Representative Johnson asked for specific examples where the county is “bumping into issues”. Arpke noted the State must comply with Federal regulations. Smith attributed that to “trickle down incompetence”.

On the topic of school finance, Arpke said he will hear directly from all 213 districts about the different issues that affect them. He noted that in western Kansas, pupil transportation costs are second to teacher salaries. Arpke noted that “block grants give” Legislators “some breathing room to look at school financing”.

Both Claeys and Price left the discussion early; Claeys said he had a meeting at USD 305.

Story by: Karen Shade for KSAL News

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