(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
The state's circuit court budget committee is recommending the elimination of the entire payroll for centers in Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Union and Bolivar, a move that would close the centers when the funding dries up Jan. 1.
Those centers are staffed by 64 full-time employees, including 13 who work at the center at 325 Merriwether St., which creates a total annual payroll of $1.7 million and another $1 million in benefits. The salaries at the Cape Girardeau center total $337,170 each year.
The overall annual budget for Missouri's entire judiciary is $169 million, according to Greg Linhares, of the Office of State Courts Administrator. While the committee finalized its recommendation Friday, the official announcement is expected to come this morning, Linhares said, so the affected employees could be informed by their supervisors.
"It's unfortunate and regrettable, but we really didn't see any way to avoid it," said Circuit Court Judge William Syler, one of a dozen or so members of the budget committee. "I'm not happy about it, but this is all money-driven."
The Missouri Supreme Court was asked by Gov. Jay Nixon to "withhold" $5 million from the state's judiciary budget, Syler said, and he expects that will happen again next year. The committee evaluated the physical operations, practices and organizational structure of 15 secure detention centers that are currently staffed by state paid personnel in the 35 multicounty circuits.
The committee picked the six based on age and condition of the facilities, the average daily population of the facility over a year and the proximity of the facility to other juvenile detention centers, Syler said. The average daily population at the Cape Girardeau center is three, according to a copy of the official report. The juvenile center in Cape Girardeau is 40 years old, and in its 2010 budget proposal, the juvenile division listed 17 examples of the facility's flaws, including a leaky roof, mold, small classrooms and a shower area outside of the facility that poses a security risk.
"It wasn't a hard decision on paper," Syler said. "But it was a hard decision when you factor in the personalities and the real people who will be looking for new jobs."
The committee's recommendation goes to the Missouri Supreme Court for final approval, though Syler said 95 percent of the time the committee's recommendations are followed. The recommendation suggests that area offenders could be transported to facilities in Bloomfield or Charleston, which have a capacity of 40 combined.
The recommendation, however, has some officials questioning how the decision would affect law enforcement, which presumably would have to transport youth offenders to facilities that are farther away. They also wonder what it would mean for the quality of service for troubled teens.
Cape Girardeau County Commissioner Jay Purcell said his concern is that police will be pulled off patrols to transport youth offenders.
"This will have a ripple effect that will affect every citizen, whether they're aware of it or not," Purcell said. "I applaud a government entity looking at cutting costs, but I worry about the health and welfare of our citizens if an officer from Cape, Jackson or a county deputy are pulled off the streets to transport a youth down south."
The county actually owns the structure on Merriwether Street and pays for the building's upkeep, while the state pays the workers. The county had recently set aside money for an architectural review of the building, and it had been looking for years at building a new facility.
Associate Circuit Judge Scott Lipke, who presides over juvenile court, also has questions about what will take the place of the center, which also provides assessment for those who go through there. He said he plans to contact the committee to get answers to his questions.
"My main concern is how it is going to affect the youth," Lipke said. "Anything that causes a potential problem is a concern."
325 Merriwether St., Cape Girardeau, MO