Following a 20-minute address to members of the Chattanooga Rotary Club, Gov. Bill Haslam said the closure of the Taft Youth Development Center was a tough but necessary decision to provide Tennesseans with the most effective government for the lowest cost. 

Haslam took a handful of questions from audience members and said the decision to close the Pikeville, Tenn., facility employing nearly 170 people and housing more than 1/3 of Hamilton County’s young offenders was not taken lightly. 

“Those decisions aren’t easy,” Haslam said. “Everybody says, ‘Government is too big, cut it, run it like a business,’ but every time you make one of those decisions, there’s people who don’t like it. But we feel like we were hired to give the very best value for the lowest taxes, and that’s what we’re going to continue to work on.”

Video: Bledsoe citizens plead to keep Taft

Source: NewsChannel 9

Closing Taft, which is currently 69 percent occupied, will provide the state with an overall savings of approximately $4.4 million. Considering Tennessee’s $31 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Haslam was asked during a follow-up with reporters if the savings were worth closing the facility, which has the lowest recidivism rates and highest percentage of GED and high school diploma attainment of any of the state’s five youth development centers.

“$4.4 million is still a lot of money,” he said. “That’s money we could use for education needs and a lot of other things. I think the important thing for us is to use every dollar wisely, and $4.4 million is a lot.”

The governor added that the majority of employees at Taft would have employment opportunities at a new state prison for adults opening in Bledsoe County next year. The facility is expected to provide 400 jobs. 

During his speech, the governor also outlined his priorities for the current legislative session, similar to remarks made in his recent State of the State address. Along with managing the state’s massive budget, he listed enhancing public safety, promoting education and jobs and ensuring an effective system for hiring and retaining state employees as his top concerns for the upcoming year. 

Haslam also advocated for proposals to increase the exemption level for estate taxes, as well as lowering the rate on grocery taxes.