This article was originally published by the Wichita Business Journal on March 21, 2016

Wichita developer pushing public-private partnership for Sedgwick County Comcare

by Josh Heck

Wichita developer Jason Van Sickle is pushing a public-private partnership for Sedgwick County’s mental health agency, Comcare.

Sedgwick County commissioners heard a proposal on Monday from Van Sickle and Comcare staff to form a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to help support Comcare operations.

According to the proposal, the nonprofit organization would be a fundraising arm to support Comcare services and utilize experts from the private sector to aid its operation. The nonprofit entity also would be used to help raise public awareness about Comcare’s services and promote volunteerism within the organization.

“The public-private partnership brings to the table a business perspective that is outside of what we normally get from people who are living in this community,” says Marilyn Cook, executive director of Comcare.

She says fundraising is a component Comcare has lacked before now.

Van Sickle says he started working with Comcare about six months ago to address the commission’s desire to come up with a plan to make the organization less reliant on tax dollars moving forward.

“Everybody thinks Comcare is doing an incredible job, but there’s room to improve,” Van Sickle says. "We just want to see how we can do more with less (tax money)."

The nonprofit entity, he says, also will create a mechanism through which people can engage in volunteer opportunities through Comcare — an option that isn't available now.

The Sedgwick County Commission, according to the proposal, would maintain oversight of Comcare. The hope is to increase the organization’s transparency and improve its efficiency.

This is part of an ongoing Sedgwick County effort to explore options for how Comcare is run.

Van Sickle says this effort comes during a time when nonprofit organizations in general are faced with declining local and state funding.

County leaders want to reduce Comcare’s dependence on local tax dollars with increased fundraising. A public-private partnership also could generate some cost-savings for other county departments that work with Comcare.

Van Sickle, a local apartment developer and president of the Old Town Association, will serve as the initial chairman of a 15- to 20-member board of directors that will be formed in conjunction with the creation of a nonprofit entity.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett also has agreed to serve on the board.