IF YOU GO
The town hall meeting is Tuesday from 5-7 p.m. CST at the Bledsoe County Courthouse in Pikeville, Tenn. To get to the courthouse at 3150 Main St., take state Highway 30 or U.S. Highway 127 to Pikeville. Once reaching the town limits, watch for a turn on the north or south end of the town for Main Street and take Main to the center of town and the courthouse square. Street-side public parking is available.
The proposed closing of the Taft Youth Development Center in Pikeville, Tenn., is the discussion topic for a town hall meeting Tuesday called by state Sen. Eric Stewart, one of several lawmakers in bipartisan opposition to the closure.
Stewart, D-Belvidere, said the decision to shutter Taft is being made without important details and without concern for the closure's impact on the community.
"This proposal has been made with little regard to the people in our area working there, the kids they serve and the impact this center has on our community," he said in an announcement about the meeting.
"There are a lot of questions about this proposal," said Stewart, who represents Bledsoe, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Sequatchie, Van Buren and Warren counties.
Fellow legislative opponents to the proposed closure include Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville; Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; and Sen. Charlotte Burkes, D-Monterey.
State Department of Children's Services Commissioner Kathryn O'Day proposed the closure in November in answer to Gov. Bill Haslam's call for 5 percent reductions in departmental budgets. Taft's closure is estimated to save $4.4 million a year, according to O'Day.
The move immediately drew bipartisan opposition from local lawmakers and officials in surrounding counties who contend O'Day is cutting a vital piece from the state's juvenile program and taking a 170-job bite out of the surrounding Cumberland Plateau counties.
Closing Taft would mean transferring its 16- to 19-year-old boys to one of the other youth centers scattered across the state, according to DCS officials. Taft now holds more than 150 juveniles.
O'Day told Haslam during a November budget hearing that Taft is the system's most costly facility, with a $12 million annual operating budget and as much as $37 million in capital needs.
In her department's present situation, "for us to save a dollar we almost have to cut two," she said during the hearing.
O'Day said most of the 167 people who work at Taft are trained by the Tennessee Department of Correction and should be able to find jobs at the nearby $208 million Bledsoe County Correctional Complex scheduled to open in 2013. The new state prison is expected to create 400 jobs or more, according to officials.
Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier said he hopes the Tuesday meeting sees a turnout of supporters for Taft but that all viewpoints are welcome.
He said petitions have begun circulating through the county and a lot of people were signing to show their support for the facility.
Collier said he's worried that Haslam's perception of the situation at Taft is colored by bad information on the costs of the operation and the extent of the impact the facility has on the youth it serves.
"I'm still trying to get another meeting with the governor, one on one," he said.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...