Cumberland County has passed an official resolution urging the state of Tennessee not to close the Taft Youth Development Center.
Commissioner of Children's Services Kathryn O'Day proposed closing the center in the budget presented to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
In its resolution, Cumberland County states, "the closing of Taft Youth Development Center would be extremely detrimental to, first and foremost, the rehabilitation of Tennessee's most severe troubled youth and the advancement of educational and developmental programs provided to those individuals in which no other resources are available in the state of Tennessee."
The approved resolution further states, "a significant decline in the economic well being of Cumberland, Bledsoe, and VanBuren counties will be highly affected by the decision to terminate the operation of Taft Youth Development Center ... The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners herby requests that the state of Tennessee's governing body consider these factors and do not terminate the operation and funding of the Taft Youth Development Center." State Representative Cameron Sexton, 25th District, said in a recent statement to the Chronicle, "My colleagues and I are in disagreement with the commissioner on the proposed closing and believe other cost-saving measures and cuts could be implemented before taking such drastic action." Sexton was joined by Rep. Bill Harmon (D-Dunlap), Reb. Jim Cobb, (R-Spring City), Sen. Eric Steward (D-Belvidere), and Sen. Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) in voicing opposition to the proposed closing. Taft Youth Center serves 156 male students, ages 16 though 19. According to the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, youth at Taft typically have adult sentences, serious delinquent offenses, are serving a third commitment or have exhibited severe behavior problems at one of the other regional youth development centers. Sexton said, "Even with the more aggressive offender population, Taft has the highest success rate of any other facility for offenders who were still in the community setting 12 months post-release without a delinquent offense."
Last week, Sexton met with the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services, as well as staff from Governor Haslam’s office.
"I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the potential closing of Taft Youth Development Center. It was an honest, open and frank conversation on an issue that is of utmost importance to the people on the Cumberland Plateau and in the Sequatchie Valley,” Sexton said.
The Department of Children’s Services has proposed a five percent department reduction for the upcoming budget year, which includes a savings of approximately $4.4 million by the closing of Taft. Taft averages 92 inmates and has 170 employees primarily from Bledsoe, Cumberland, Van Buren, Rhea and White counties.
Representative Sexton requested the meeting earlier last week in an effort to keep the dialogue open and seek more detailed budget information on all the Youth Development Centers.
Representative Sexton also requested information on all youth development centers concerning worker’s compensation and overtime pay. He asked for an itemized list outlining the $37 million of improvements that have been mentioned by the department.
"It is vitally important to have the most detailed and accurate information made available to the legislators before such a severe action is taken; especially in a rural community whose unemployment rate is already higher than the state’s and the nation’s," said Sexton.
He also requested the actual costs to build the New Visions Youth Development Center, the newest, most recent structure that has been built.
"Commissioner O’Day indicated her department will have the information compiled and furnished to me prior to session starting in January 2012, and I appreciate that. When I receive this information, I will call a meeting of all legislators affected by this decision to review the data provided. We will then make a decision on our next move,” Sexton said.
Cumberland County's resolution number 12-2011-8 was unanimously approved after a motion was made by Alan Foster, 4th District commissioner. It was supported by 5th District Commissioner Jan McNeil.