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Sedgwick County commissioners split on juvenile funding bill

Sedgwick County commissioners split on juvenile funding bill

By George Lawson. CREATED Feb 12, 2014

Sedgwick County commissioners are divided over a bill in the Kansas House that would provide funding for the troubled Judge Riddel Boys Ranch.  The commission voted 3-2 to send a statement to lawmakers taking a neutral position on the bill.

House Bill 2540, authored by state representative Jim Howell of Derby, creates a new category of youth residential centers that would house juvenile offenders, but not children in need of care.

Commission chairman Dave Unruh read the statement during Wednesday's commission meeting, saying that Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts has not recommended funding for the Boys Ranch and the House bill would make the facility a housing program, "and not a program for success."   Unruh and commissioners Jim Skelton and Tim Norton feel that the bill would take rehabilitation programs away from the Boys Ranch.    The statement, to be submitted as testimony to a House committee, says the corrections secretary has the power without legislative action to keep the Boys Ranch open.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau argued that the county should work with state lawmakers, and he feels the House bill is a long-term solution since it includes a cost study.     Ranzau plans to be in Topeka on Thursday to testify before the House committee and voice his support for the bill.   Ranzau and commissioner Karl Peterjohn voted against the statement voicing the neutral position.

The county is keeping the Boys Ranch open through the end of June, pending legislative action on funding.   The Boys Ranch has been hit with staff resignations in recent months, and commissioners approved extra funding in January to keep staff in place until decisions are made on future funding.