published Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Taft Youth Development Center employees given termination notices

Workers at the Taft Youth Center  north of Pikeville, Tenn., will soon be getting work termination notices from the state.
Workers at the Taft Youth Center north of Pikeville, Tenn., will soon be getting work termination notices from the state.
Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TAFT EMPLOYEES HOTLINE


For more information or questions, employees at Taft can email the state Department of Children’s Services at dcs.human.resources@tn.gov or call 615-741-4809.

Employees at Taft Youth Development Center soon will be getting 90-day termination notices in anticipation that the new state budget won’t have any funding for the Bledsoe County facility, state officials said.

Department of Children’s Services spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said Friday that officials have met with Taft staff pending the release of the notices to about 150 employees remaining at the center in Pikeville, Tenn., that holds some of the state’s toughest young offenders.

A new prison for adults — Bledsoe County Corrections Complex — has been built within eyeshot of Taft, and some Taft employees could get jobs there, she said.

“There is an administration amendment to the budget that, if the budget passes, then the Department of Correction would have the money to employ 168 people for the Bledsoe County Corrections Complex beginning July 1,” Sudderth said.

Hiring at the new prison will be accelerated if Taft is closed, she said. The prison is expected to create up to 400 jobs, officials have said.

State inmates will be moved into the new state prison in early 2013.

Passage of a Taft-less budget would shutter the 90-year-old facility on July 1, Sudderth said. Law requires the department to give 90 days notice, so the termination memos must go out despite the fact that state lawmakers have yet to adopt a budget.

“Nothing is final on the closure of Taft until the budget passes, but state law requires us to give notice 90 days prior,” Sudderth said.

In the event Taft is funded in the pending state budget, Sudderth said all the steps toward closure will become unnecessary.

The budget ax has loomed over Taft since Gov. Bill Haslam called for 5 percent reductions in all state departments last year and Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day announced plans to close Taft and move its 16- to 19-year-old inmates to other youth development centers around the state. O’Day contends the Taft closure will save $8.5 million a year.

Department of Correction officials will begin interviewing Taft employees for positions at the new prison on April 23, Sudderth said. The interviews will be conducted at Taft for the employees’ convenience, she said.

Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, one of a number of lawmakers creating bipartisan opposition to the proposal to close Taft, said the battle to fund the center isn’t over yet, but officials are making every effort to make sure Taft’s staff get as much help as possible.

“We’re working on both sides,” Sexton said.

A budget amendment request was filed this week for “a little over $11 million to put back in the budget for Taft,” he said.

Legislators also are trying to make sure Taft employees, initially told they wouldn’t be eligible for management or supervisory positions, will be able to apply for those types of posts at the new prison, he said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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