Carroll County Supervisor Dr. Tom Littrell continues to take the fight to Richmond to try to keep the Southwestern Virginia Training Center (SWVTC) in Hillsville open.
Virginia reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in August of 2012 to close four of the state’s five training centers, including the Hillsville facility, to move residents to other smaller homes or facilities. Under the agreement, the Southwestern Virginia Training Center in Hillsville is scheduled to be closed by June 30, 2018.
In the continuing fight to keep the SWVTC open, Littrell testified Feb. 9 at the General Assembly Building in Richmond in front of a subcommittee for the House of Appropriations Committee in regards to House Bill 294 – Southwestern Virginia Training Center and Southeastern Virginia Training Center; Closure Prohibited.
Littrell was joined in Richmond by Senator Bill Carrico and Delegate Israel O’Quinn, two co-sponsors of the bill. In addition to the state officials, Littrell said two parents of residents at the Hillsville facility spoke.
“I thought the chairman was very receptive and asked nice questions. They were at least receptive to what we said,” Littrell said. “Three or four people spoke against it that still felt like the training center should be closed. I think they were from state agencies pushing to close it. Unfortunately with a subcommittee of eight people and only four in attendance, they didn’t have a quorum. They could accept testimony, but they could not vote. They said they would take up the bill at a later date as far as a vote.”
Littrell planned to stay in Richmond for a couple of more days with Delegates O’Quinn and Jeff Campbell to meet with Virginia Association of County officials and others. VACo already supports keeping the training center open, but all will join forces to see what can be done to turn the tide, Littrell said.
“The problem is loss of jobs. They have made no effort to find placement for these residents once they close it,” he said. “And closure is only two years and four months away.”
Littrell talked about his plans to go to Richmond the previous night during the Carroll County Board of Supervisors’ Feb. 8 meeting. Since his testimony was going to be before an appropriations committee, he said the only thing they look at are numbers – numbers such as how much it will cost to keep the training center open versus closing it.
“My concern is they don’t take into account what it costs to have alternate homes for these folks that are in the training center at this time,” Littrell said.
Previewing his testimony, Littrell said he planned to mention three points of interest. SWVTC currently houses about 108 residents, he said, and the last figures he obtained said it cost about $165,418 per resident to live in the training center opposed to $150,611 to live in private or group home as an alternative.
“There is a $15,000 difference there,” Littrell said. “That is a fairly small difference when you consider the care in the training center is the best possible, and it is also the most suitable facility for these folks.”
His second point was to bring up the fact that Governor Terry McAuliffe ran on the platform as a jobs governor.
“And while it doesn’t seem as exciting to announce that you are retaining 400 jobs as it is to announce the creation of 400 new jobs, that is exactly what we are trying to do, is retain those 400 jobs that are currently at the training center,” Littrell said. “And the loss of the 400 jobs would be a huge economic blow to our employees’ families and the Twin County Region as a whole. And I suspect it would take a long time to replace those jobs.”
Finally, he said he was going to talk about the economic impact of the potential closing of the training center. A study for the Central Virginia Training Center in the Lynchburg/Amherst area estimated the impact at about $80 million.
“I am sure ours would be comparable to that,” Littrell said. “You can see that the training center closure would be devastating to this area. I think it’s vital that we try to keep it open. I think the folks working against us mainly from a money standpoint don’t take into account the millions of dollars it takes to put these folks somewhere else.”
Supervisors Robbie McCraw, Rex Hill and Joshua Hendrick all thanked Littrell for his efforts in keeping the issue at the forefront in the state.
“I appreciate Dr. Littrell and what he is putting into this training center effort,” McCraw said. “It is very vital for our area to keep it open, not only economically, but for the care of the clients. Once they go into the private sector they risk that possibility of ill treatment. It is very important we protect them.”
Hill said he appreciated Littrell’s efforts.
“You can’t calculate the value of what Dr. Littrell is doing for the Southwestern Virginia Training Center,” Hill said.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN