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Senate Tentatively Approves Building Of Mental Hospital In Butner

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Despite the last-ditch pleas of legislatorswanting to bring 1,200 state jobs to their districts, the statemoved a step closer Thursday to building a psychiatric hospital inButner to replace two older, outdated centers.

Senators from Wake and Chatham counties pleaded again with theircolleagues to put the 430-bed hospital in one of their communities.Wake offers entry-level jobs and public transportation foroutpatients, while Chatham is more centrally located within theregion it would serve, they said.

"No longer do we treat mental health patients by taking themout to the middle of the big field and just letting them staythere," said Sen. Eric Reeves, D-Wake, before the Senate approvedthe bill 46-0. "Now they try to get back into society as quicklyas possible."

Supporters say the site will lead to a savings because Butner isthe only town administered by the state of North Carolina andalready is home to several other state-run facilities. Some alsosay that Granville County needs the jobs more than Wake or Chatham.

"I couldn't agree more," Reeves said. "But making a decisionof economics over patient care, putting economics in front ofpatient care, does not seem right to me."

The proposed $110 million hospital will replace the agingDorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh and John Umstead Hospital inButner. Renovating those hospitals would have cost $160 million.

The new hospital would be financed over 20 years withcertificates of participation, which do not require voter approval.

Passage of the bill nearly stalled when Senate Republicansthreatened to kill the legislation unless they could removeguidelines for using certificates of participation for otherprojects.

Rep. Fern Shubert, R-Union, said she worried that the bill wouldthe allow the state to sell up to $250 million of bonds for repairand renovation projects without having to put the issues beforevoters. Democrats countered that they were only trying to clearlyestablish the bond procedure and that any future projects wouldrequire legislative approval.

"If it were just dealing with the hospital, as important asthis project is, I probably wouldn't have said much," Shubertsaid. "(But) it opens the door to a whole new category ofborrowing."

Sen. Wib Gulley, D-Durham, first objected to the amendment butagreed to support it after a brief recess.

"The short of it is that I don't want to try and do somethingdivisive about something as important as this hospital," he said.

The bill returns to the Senate on Monday night for a finalreading. If it's approved, the House will have to reconsider thebill because of the amendment.

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