YDC in Milledgeville might close

A budget proposed by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice would close the Bill E. Ireland Youth Development Campus in Milledgeville, eliminating almost 400 positions in an area already rocked by plant shutdowns and other state job losses.

The state Board of Juvenile Justice discussed the proposal but delayed a vote on the plan until Sept. 10, said department spokesman Steve Hayes. If approved, the plan would be submitted to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, which would adopt the proposal or make changes before the governor submits his budget to the General Assembly.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has asked all state departments to present program budget plans that cut spending by 4, 6 and 8 percent.

State Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, said the YDC’s closing, on top of recent job losses in Baldwin County, would be “very devastating.” Grant was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting but appealed to board members by phone to keep the YDC open.

“They could spread those job cuts out across the state, maybe downsize Bill E. Ireland if you have to,” Grant said.

Historically, state jobs have accounted for about one-third of employment in Milledgeville and Baldwin County, a higher per capita rate of any other area in Georgia, Grant said. But that was before job losses and furloughs at Central State Hospital, Georgia College & State University and other facilities.

This month, the state closed a prison in nearby Hardwick, which employed almost 300 people.

“We feel we’re getting a disproportionate share of cuts in Milledgeville,” Grant said.

The senator said he plans to meet with Perdue next week.

In addition to state job losses, Milledgeville and Baldwin County have been hit hard by plant closings this year. Shaw Industries and T&S Hardwoods shut down, and Rheem Manufacturing — the county’s largest private employer — is in the final stages of phasing out its air conditioner plant. The closings eliminated almost 1,500 jobs.

The Milledgeville YDC is the oldest in Georgia, and closing it would save the state about $18.5 million each year, state spokesman Hayes said.

“That facility is 103 years old and is very costly to operate. Its infrastructure is aging. Its design is not good.”

The plan calls for the YDC to be closed by December or January. Its 300-plus employees would be assisted in finding new jobs, possibly at other YDCs, Hayes said.

“We would assist them to try to place them if that’s what they would want to do,” said Hayes. “We have vacant positions at other facilities.”

When fully staffed, the Milledgeville YDC employs 393 people, but 81 positions are currently vacant.

The state, Hayes said, has a “Baldwin County master plan” that calls for closing the 300-bed Bill E. Ireland YDC and eventually building a new, 150-bed YDC.

“That is in plan only, and obviously the funds are not available to make that happen right now. We would hopefully be moving back to Milledgeville.”

The budget also calls for cutting 20 of the 150 beds at the Macon YDC, the state’s only YDC for female juvenile defenders. Those cuts would eliminate 13 positions, but Hayes said most of those jobs are already vacant.

The Macon YDC employs 215 people.

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.