In April 2011, a new City Commission was elected to serve Manhattan. Several of these elected officials have expressed a desire to cut back Manhattan’s overall spending in order to lower the city’s debt and taxes. Cutbacks have been discussed concerning the social services Manhattan provides to its citizens. An ordinance for cutbacks, however, was never drafted.
In August, the commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the 2012 budget which allocated $480,482 to ten social service agencies selected by the Social Services Advisory Board.
These agencies include: Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Manhattan, Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan, The Manhattan Crisis Center Inc, Homecare & Hospice, Kansas Legal Services, the K-State Child Development Center, Manhattan Emergency Shelter, Shepherd’s Crossing, Sunflower CASA Project Inc and the UFM Community Learning Center.
Commissioner Wynn Butler said the allocation the agencies received was the full amount requested by the advisory board. Butler, however, feels the city can do a better job allocating money to agencies.
“Let’s prioritize,” he said. “We can’t close the Manhattan Emergency Shelter. There is stuff that is critical, but there is also stuff that makes no sense.”
A flaw Butler cites is that some of the funding allocated to UFM is used to pay tuition. Butler also said though he would like to see these agencies entirely privately funded, he is aware that is unrealistic and would be an extreme disservice to taxpayers.
On Oct. 25, 2011, a group known as Save Our Social Services, commonly referred to as S.O.S., gathered at City Hall to protest the cutting of funds to any of the social services funded by the city.
“It’s a definite philosophical difference of opinion of what government should do,” said Debbie Nuss, co-chair of S.O.S. “It’s selfish not to want to provide that funding and it’s irresponsible.”
The group is currently gathering signatures for a petition ordinance they drafted to ensure funding for the city sponsored service agencies. On Sunday, group members stood outside several Manhattan churches to collect signatures for their petition. The group also stood outside the Manhattan Jewish Congregation and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowships’ meeting places during their services.
“We think that government has a responsibility in taking care of its most needy citizens,” said Geri Simon, co-chair of S.O.S.
According to a document provided by S.O.S., the proposed ordinance has three main points:
“It keeps the Social Services Advisory Board as the group making recommendations to the City Commission on social services funding. It requires the city to spend 2 percent of the main fund used for day-to-day expenses on social services funding each year. It requires that funds be carried over for future social service spending if all the funds allocated each year are not used.”
Simon said the 2 percent figure was chosen based on the amount the city has allocated over the last nine years and varies from 1.7 percent to 2 percent, which S.O.S considers reasonable.
Butler said he thinks giving 2 percent of the city’s general fund for the next 10 years to social services is “absolute insanity,” adding that in doing so the city would be providing an “astronomic increase” to social services over the course of 10 years.
Butler, however, said he is not in favor of totally cutting funding to social services.
“We should be picking up the slack not sending the baseline,” he said.
He also said citizens should look for compromise and ways to help privately fund these agencies.
Butler said he would oppose the petition, and that if it goes up for public vote and fails, he would take that as a cue not to support funding of those agencies.
In a November issue of the Collegian, Jack Hoagland, Sunflower CASA volunteer, said he was concerned about possible future reductions of social services funding.
“I consider it important not only for the commissioners, but also for the citizens of Manhattan to understand and appreciate what CASA volunteers do in our community,” Hoagland said.
Sunflower CASA is part of a national movement to provide volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children. Hoagland said Sunflower CASA has been in Riley County since 1988 and has served more than 1,000 children.
The organization provides oversight and administrative support for 75 CASA volunteers who have given more than 2,300 hours of their time and driven more than 23,000 miles in advocating for 160 children in the community.
In order to force action on the petition ordinance by the commission, S.O.S. needs to collect at least 1,494 signatures from registered Manhattan voters. From there, the commissioners have 20 days to either adopt the ordinance or put it up to a public vote. S.O.S. started collecting signatures in October and were given 180 days to meet the requirements.
Nuss said prior to this weekend, S.O.S. members have collected at least half of the signatures needed to bring the ordinance to the commission. She also said the group plans to continue to collect signatures at Martin Luther King Jr. observance week activities and does not anticipate needing the full 180 days to collect signatures.
“Trust the process and the committee that makes those recommendations,” Nuss said.