Your Tax Dollars Paying For Unused Center - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

11/07/03

Your Tax Dollars Paying For Unused Center

"This facility has been pretty much substantially complete for about 18 months," says Executive Director Dale Roberts. But the mental health facility that's supposed to help 13 to 21 year olds sits empty. 

"We've requested a budget for funding from the state legislature and at the time we made an initial request when construction was completed is when the state began to take some pretty large budget cuts and so we've made another request for this next fiscal year," Roberts says.

It would take five million dollars a year to operate the center. The eleven million dollars that built the facility also paid for a house on the property where Roberts lives. She's paid $60,000 a year. Until there's money to treat patients, the mental health department uses the building for training and certification classes. A small staff keeps the place running. 

"We have a staff of about seven right now and we're working to keep up these grounds, to maintain the buildings and do some of the basic business work that's required of all state agencies."

The Harrison County Supervisors donated the 20 acres to build the center. They were sold on the jobs it was supposed to create. The director says eventually 128 people will work at the facility with salaries ranging from 21-thousand dollars a year to the mid-40's. The supervisors saw that as a big boost to the county's economy. 

District  2 Supervisor Larry Benefield says, "At that particular time the gaming industry had leveled off and we were looking at ways to fuel our economy and continue some of the growth that we had with good jobs and this was a way to do it."

Benefield says if the legislature never funds the facility, the county might be able to use it. But Roberts says she wants it for its intended purpose, helping young people with mental problems.

byMarcia Hill

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