Politics and Government
7:21 pm
Mon July 21, 2014

Oklahoma Juvenile Affairs Director: "Need A Substantial Budget Increase For 2016"

The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs
The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs
Credit Office of Juvenile Affairs

The Oklahoma Board of Juvenile Affairs heard about the dire state of its budget during its monthly meeting Friday. Executive Director Keith Wilson told the board that "this next budget year will be nip and tuck" and that a "substantial increase in the budget for 2016" will be necessary.

"At this point in time we are operating 15.5 percent below where we were operating with the initial budget in 2010," said Wilson. "We have to cut approximately $3 million, just shy of it, out of the budget this year. That's something over $5 million that it left us to fund."

Some consolation was found in the fact that the revolving funds of "somewhere between $2.25 and $2.5 million" remained intact for the agency. That money will be solely used to operate Southern Plains Treatment Services, but there will be "very little left in those funds by the end of the fiscal year." Though the money will save the treatment center from closing, it must now be staffed less due to the cut.

"We operate at a dangerously low staffing level now," said Wilson. "And we're going to cut it some more. We have to… There is no other option. I don't have enough trainers to train the people we hire into these positions to take care of. And it's dangerous. We do the best we can do. But we do not have money to hire the number of people that we need. There's just no way to get any more so we just have to deal with it."

All institutions are having their budgets reduced by $650,000, most of which "has to come out of staffing." This lack of staffing has also led to a more volatile environment.

"I consider the inability to do the training that we ought to do as the most dangerous situation we have this upcoming year," said Wilson. "We're utilizing some of the senior staff at the institution to help with the training, but it's difficult to get it all in."

Wilson said that if additional funding is not granted for FY2016 then the first thing to happen is the closing of Southern Plains because "there will be no way to operate it."

"We're going to have to do something. And the only thing I can think of is to close an institution…I see no other way if they don't give us the funding. If in the coming year, the 2016 fiscal year, we are not given substantial increase and I mean substantial then the first thing that will happen is Southern Plains secure services will close. There will be no way to operate it."

The situation that OJA finds themselves in is a dire one and Wilson did his best to stress this to the board and continues to impress it upon legislators and the governor as well.

"I think it's important for the board to understand that the situation that the legislature and the governor has put us in is just critical," said Wilson. "I don't know any other way to say it. And unless the legislature and the governor step forward and provide us with additional funding in 2016, we're going to have to look for some very creative ways to avoid this."