(SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan.) — Spend money now to keep at-risk kids out of trouble later. That's usually what Sedgwick County does but that's about to change. Sedgwick County is losing more than $600,000 in crime prevention grant dollars. Wednesday county commissioners will vote on which programs to cut after deferring it one week. Groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girl Empowerment and Communities in Schools are on the list.
County Commissioner Jim Skelton floated the idea of passing the cost of credit card service fees to residents who use credit to pay their bills. He says the county spends more than $1 million each year on those fees. He says if they change the policy, maybe that extra money could go back into crime prevention programs. Skelton says that won't happen anytime soon, so they'll have to vote Wednesday and then research the issue.
The vote will impact girls like Naya Jackson. Right now she has a summer job, but it's about more than making some money. The job also keeps her out of trouble. "I'm all better now," Jackson said. But several years ago, she struggled at home and school prompting her mom to enroll her in the Girl Empowerment Program through the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas. "I'd be lost still from running away and stuff and being involved in those bad negativity things without the program," Jackson said.
"I'm telling you, this program does work. I watched it work," said Girl Empowerment Coordinator Deborah Diggs. But Girl Empowerment stands to lose $54,000, a third of its funding because the county isn't getting as much crime prevention money. "I've worked tirelessly for the last five years with these ladies, so I'm a little choked up right now," Diggs said.
Girl Empowerment is one of six programs that will lose all or partial funding. Many of them asked county commissioners Tuesday to reconsider the cuts. "I'm praying for all the programs," Diggs said.
Commissioner Richard Ranzau says one of the hardest things about the proposed cuts to programs like Girl Empowerment is they know the programs work. So he hopes private donors step up to fill the void. "We're limited with the amount of funds we have and have to do these tough decisions," he said.
Diggs says she'll work for free if it means continuing the program at the same level. The $54,000 cut means they wouldn't be able to help 200 girls next year. Jackson understands funding is tough, but hopes the program continues so other girls can be empowered like her.