Friday, March 05, 2010

No accelerated closure for TYC's Pyote, Victory Field units

The Odessa American reported yesterday that the Texas Youth Commission did not plan to close two facilities - in Pyote and Vernon - earlier than expected. These units were already scheduled to close in August, but TYC told state leaders they could save money by closing them sooner, in early April. However, TYC spokesman Jim Hurley "added that the Legislative Budget Board could still order the facility to close sooner than August," a comment that seemed to leave the issue up in the air.

So I contacted state Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, who currently sits on the LBB, to get an answer straight from the horse's mouth. He had a staffer send me a memo on the topic which read, in relevant part:
  • TYC would realize $3 million in savings for FY 2010 if these facilities underwent accelerated closure.
  • During disucssions whether to pursue accelerated closure for these two facilities, several factors were taken into consideration including:
  1. Impact on the safety of the youths at the facility
  2. Impact on the local economy (retraining and relocation of TYC employees) ...
  • The LBB, during a recent inquiry by TYC, unanimously opted against the accelerated closures.
That seems to settle the matter: the LBB has already voted not to push for accelerated closure of either facility before August. (CORRECTION: One of Hinojosa's staffers called this morning to say that the line in this memo about LBB making a decision was inaccurate - an error by a staffer that is "simply false." The LBB has made no decision yet and still could choose to close the two facilities early, I was told.)

I should mention, btw, Hinojosa also (rightfully) chided me that I'd given Sen. John Whitmire credit for the TYC Sunset legislation he carried last year, and he's 100% right about that. Whitmire had been the most vocal proponent of downsizing TYC and moving more youth into community corrections settings, but it was Hinojosa's bill and there's no question he played a central role in all the recent reforms at the agency.

According to the Odessa American, local officials hope some other state agency will move into the facility in Pyote, which is the first I've heard of such a suggestion:

Ward County officials opposed an abrupt closing of the detention center, saying it would cause hardship and undercut efforts to transition the facility into another state agency.

“They are trying to find something else for this facility so that those jobs will stay here,” said Monahans Mayor David Cutbirth, who noted that the detention center has received several million dollars worth of upgrades in recent years and is one of the nicest TYC facilities in the state. “We’re all working very hard to find some kind of seamless transition to put some other state agency in there.”

The idea of moving another agency to Pyote to keep jobs there doesn't seem to jibe with TYC and LBB's focus on "retraining and relocation of TYC employees." Clearly nobody knows for sure yet what will happen to either the facilities or the employees when these units close. For folks working at these units, as for many of us, these are uncertain times.

The choice not to accelerate closures at WTSS or Victory Field may be an indication that the 5% cuts the Governor called for before the primary won't be as well received by state legislators going forward. These cuts were low hanging fruit, closing facilities that will shut down in four months, anyway. That makes me wonder if we'll see any early cuts at all during the interim, or if LBB will wait for the next budget process to make up what are predicted to be sizable gaps?


Anonymous said...

There are not many jobs in the areas where these facilities are. Half of the savings from the closures will be spent by the TWC to retrain and pay unemployment. Keeping the facilities open until August will make it difficult for laid off employees to enroll in classes that would be funded by TWC, therefore delaying some of that cost until after the elections. There is some method in the madness, but those of us that work for TYC have laughed often at the idea that employees are considered the agency's most valuable resource. CO demands loyalty, but any loyalty they have for us is an illusion.

Anonymous said...

There are no plans to use the Pyote facilities anywhere in the near future. The cafeteria and other units are falling down and unsanitary. What is left can be used for little by others. Why allow the stinking wound to seek and fester longer? Close the nestlers whole and close a sour era in TYC history. Its like placing a bandaid on a major head wound.

Anonymous said...

11:47 You're entitled to your opinion, but none of what you said about the facility is true. If someone could figure out a use for it, it could be functional with relatively little repair. It's a tough life out here in the desert, but the rest of the state needs the oil and gas that's be produced out here. We deserve consideration for government contracts as much as anyone else in the state.