Juvenile center loses state contracts
Budget cuts impact local center, officials say
By Traci Chapman
Canadian County’s children’s justice center for the first time in recent years faces a lower budget than the year before, brought about by cuts in state contracts.
Bill Alexander, co-director of the Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center, said Tuesday the problem begins and ends on the state level, where budget cuts caused Oklahoma Department of Juvenile Affairs and Department of Human Services to slash contracts with centers across the state. What that meant for Canadian County was programs basically funded by those agencies would be phased out over the coming months, Alexander said.
“We’re not completely pulling the programs, but we will only be serving our Canadian County kids,” he said. “We’re lucky we have the sales tax revenue to support that.”
According to financial documents provided by County Clerk Shelley Dickerson, last year the center received almost $3 million in contract revenues – almost $600,000 more than originally projected. For fiscal year 2015, officials are expecting just under $1.28 million in contract revenues, a more than 50 percent cut.
The two programs impacted by the cuts were sanctions and the Fort Reno group home. In the past, contract funds paid not only for out-of-county youth, but also covered the price tag for local individuals participating in both programs. With the change, the 24 beds currently filled in the group home would be cut down to 12, all holding county youth, Alexander said.
“Our biggest concern was to make sure we didn’t disrupt the programs of the kids currently in the group home,” Alexander said. “We also know that we’re losing staff positions and we didn’t want layoffs.”
The group home is a five-month program, and if individuals were forced to stop because of the funding cut, they would have to start all over, likely being put on a master state DHS waiting list, the co-director said. That would not happen, thanks to some work by center staff in negotiating a phase-out of the program for out-of-county participants, he said.
As for center staff, 25 positions will be eliminated because of the program changes.
“We are slowly transitioning so we don’t lay off any personnel,” Alexander said. “Some of our people can transfer to other county departments, some will find other jobs – it was just really important to us that we didn’t just tell someone, ‘Sorry, you don’t have a job as of today.’”
Last year’s center budget topped $8.6 million, with sales tax revenues projected at $6.05 million. According to Dickerson’s financial statement, actual sales tax revenues came in at just over $5.584 million. This year’s budget, approved Monday by commissioners, totaled $8.265 million. The justice center’s budget is retroactive back to July 1.
Other programs would remain as is and would not be impacted by the cuts, Alexander said. It was not known if the lost contracts were permanent or if things would revert to past practices once state revenues bounced back.
“That’s something none of us really know at this point,” he said.
Commissioners praised center officials for how they handled the situation, while criticizing some state moves in cutting contract rates with other counties across the state.
“I see there are cuts this year, but I am pleased with how you are handling the situation,” District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart said.
“I want to express my feelings concerning the decisions of the state approving lower rates for counties that do not have juvenile facilities,” District 2 Commissioner David Anderson said. “It feels like they are penalizing proactive communities who have been diligent and invested in these facilities.
“This is something I would like to see brought up to the Legislature,” he said.
“This will be a transition year,” Alexander said. “We’ll slowly go to Canadian County kids only and not servicing other counties,” Alexander said. “What this contract did was it allowed us to have programs for Canadian County kids way before we had the sales tax to support them.
“Thank goodness the sales tax has grown like it has,” he said.