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Editorial: Juvenile center - First, determine the need

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The battle over whether the 32nd Judicial Circuit -- Cape Girardeau, Perry and Bollinger counties -- will see a new juvenile center in Cape Girardeau continues between the Cape Girardeau County Commission and juvenile authorities.

The commissioners have made a serious, although slightly backhanded, accusation that more juveniles were being picked up and stuffed into the existing 10-bed center to make it seem inadequate. The juvenile authorities insist that the building really is inadequate and that a 38-bed center would fit the bill.

But at dead center of the debate is money, pure and simple.

Last month, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones switched from flatly opposing a new juvenile center to promising to build one if the price is right.

For him, that would be $2 million, with Perry and Bollinger counties kicking in for the bond payments because the center houses juvenile offenders from all three counties in the circuit.

In that scenario, with a $490,000 down payment, a $2 million bond issue would end up costing the counties $3.5 million under a 20-year payment plan for a total of nearly $4 million.

Even a smaller, 20-bed center could cost up to $3 million under the same plan.

The county has the down payment on hand because juvenile center expenses have come in under budget. If the same trend continued for three more years, Jones insists, the county could have $1 million saved and use the full amount as a down payment, cutting down interest.

The disagreement between the commission and judges in the 32nd Judicial Circuit is before the seven-member Missouri Judicial Finance Commission, which is trying to help both sides reach an agreement.

All this talk about money.

But what about need?

If they haven't done so, the county commissioners should get to the bottom of the need issue as quickly as possible and determine exactly how many young detainees are in the center every day and why they are there.

They should talk to juvenile officers and check the center regularly to see whether it is in disrepair or filled to capacity.

Then there would be no need for debate. They could either provide the money for the troubled children of the three-county area or report their findings to the finance commission, insist that a new center is not needed and present proof to back up that stance.

If they go with the first option, surely the county's $5 million in reserves -- for an emergency, commissioners insist -- could be tapped for that extra bit of down payment. Arguably, accommodating the community's juveniles who are most in need of help would be the most pressing priority right now.


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