BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After voters shot down a tax proposal in December that would have funded the Bridge Center in Baton Rouge, the facility's leadership board is going back to the drawing board.
Without the millions of dollars the tax would have generated each year, Bridge Center board members are now looking for alternative forms of funding. "We do have some grant funding that could help us get started with some of the initiatives," said Kathy Kliebert, Bridge Center board chair.
For instance, those grants could pay for a pre-trial mental health program. However, leaders say grants alone would not be enough to launch the facility entirely. Kliebert said the board could ask to put up the tax for another vote this fall. So far, the board has not met with Mayor Sharon Weston Broome to discuss the possibility of getting it on the ballot.
"It's something we desperately need," said East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore.
In recent years, parish leaders have said the number of people with mental health problems in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison has swelled. Four years ago, facilities like Greenwell Springs Hospital that treat those with mental disorders lost funding and began shutting down. The proposed Bridge Center would serve as an alternative.
"We want to get them access to services so they can go back into the community quickly and become valued citizens," Kliebert said.
Rather than go to jail, police could instead bring low-level offenders to the center, where they could be evaluated and receive treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.
"You'll see the emergency rooms are better places to go, you'll see the prison population decrease, you'll see mental health become better in Baton Rouge," Moore said.
Moore said the tax was defeated at a time when the facility may be needed more than ever before. "The heroin overdose rate is now equal to the homicide rate in many cities. We're not there yet, but we're getting there, and these are deaths that can be saved," Moore said.
The 1.5-mill property tax on the ballot last fall would have generated an estimated $6 million annually. The tax would have lasted for 10 years.