Safety center proposal going nowhere? Plan now on hold

Plans to build a safety center, designed to house and treat the mentally ill who are arrested for nonviolent crimes, have stalled and appear to be going nowhere.

"We'll wait another year and then come up with something else," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett told WBIR 10News on Thursday.

County leaders have long talked about building a facility to combat jail overcrowding at the Maloneyville Road detention center, and help those with mental health issues get the care they need. But, county officials say they need the county, state and city to each chip in $1 million to get the operation up and running.

The county set aside its share last year, but neither the state nor city included funding in their respective budgets for this year.

In the meantime, the county accepted bids to build and operate a center but only Helen Ross McNabb submitted a proposal. And since then, no action has been taken regarding that submission.

Burchett during a taping of Inside Tennessee on Wednesday night told the 10News panel that if the city and state didn't put up the money "then it could not work because Knox County could not support it."

He noted that most of the people arrested come from within the city limits.

"That's not knocking the city, but if the city cannot provide that and the state cannot provide that then it cannot fall on the shoulders of Knox County citizens all alone," he said.

The mayor added: "That was the agreement in the beginning. We stepped up to the plate. The others haven't been able to do so due to the finance concerns and I understand that. I'm not knocking them."

He even suggested that the proposal was dead.

On Thursday, though, he backed off somewhat.

"I'd say we give it another year and see if we can get it in and then we'll have to come up with something else," the mayor told WBIR in an interview

City officials, though, say there's never been an agreement about how to fund the plan.

Bill Lyons, Knoxville's chief policy officer and a co-chairman of the safety center task force, said the project at this point is on hold, adding that the group needs to see a "viable" plan before taking further action.

The task force, though, has not scheduled a meeting.

"There's a lot of support for the concept of (a safety center) if one can find the model that actually works for people," he said.

However, Lyons added that city leaders want the county to "lead the process and the funding."

He said the "odds of the city being an equal funder are quite long," but officials are "not ruling out further participation."

He also said one issue that concerns officials is whether city taxpayers – if the city helped fund a center – would "double pay," since municipal residents already pay county taxes.

The center would treat offenders who voluntarily stay for up to three days, and could serve about 4,000 people a year. Officials say the facility would cost about $2 million to build and then another $1.7 million annually to operate.

Officials have talked about putting it behind the McNabb Center on Springdale Avenue in North Knoxville or on Ball Camp Pike.


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