Governor Mike Dunleavy’s line item vetoes — if they are not over-ridden by the Legislature — have resulted in the closure of the Nome Youth Facility. The fourteen-bed facility will be forced to relocate its youth, after it was de-funded in the Governor’s effort to balance the state budget.
Members of the community have expressed their disappointment in the decision and lauded the Youth Center for the positive work it did for anti-recidivism, including its community service and mental health programs. Brandy Arrington, President of the Nome School Board, is one of those people.
“They’ve done phenomenal things over there, so that’s a sad thing to lose, as well as, you know, that’s 18 jobs going away as well,” Arrington said.
The elimination of the Nome Youth Facility represents one of the two largest cuts in personnel from the Governor’s vetoes. During Dunleavy’s budget press conference last week, it was mentioned that there were 18 positions cut from the facility. The Department of Natural Resources was the other large cut, but the exact details of the cuts to that department are currently unclear.
Denice Gilroy, the executive director of Arctic Access in Nome, praised the youth at the facility and emphasized their need for a safe place.
“These are good, wholesome kids,” Gilroy said. “You wanna know why our kids are at Youth Facility? It’s not because they’re bad kids; it’s because they need a safe place.”
Gilroy mentioned that she is at the Nome Youth Facility often and says that, in terms of disappointing decisions, she thinks the closure was second only to cutting funding to senior programs.
The Governor proposed that detained youth be moved to other facilities in his initial budget in February. Youth that are currently in the Nome facility will be sent to Anchorage, Fairbanks or Bethel once the facility officially closes. Arrington thinks moving them far from home is not beneficial.
“I feel like it’s important that our kids are close to home versus being sent out to Anchorage, and Nome Youth Facility has done wonderful things,” Arrington said.
Kawerak’s President, Melanie Bahnke also weighed in on the potential closure. In a statement released last week, Bahnke said “The Nome Youth Facility will likely close as a result of (Governor Dunleavy’s budget) cuts. This means the chance to embrace and rehabilitate our youth from the 28 communities surrounding Nome and Kotzebue in a culturally appropriate setting will be ripped out from under us. Alaska Native culture is a protective factor for our at-risk youth. We cannot see these young people sent out of our region; here they have the best chance of developing into productive community members.”
The decision to de-fund the Youth Facility is not entirely unexpected, however. Arrington says its fiscal future has been uncertain before.
“It just seems like, every year, Nome Youth Facility is always on the chopping block to be cut; it’s always one of the first things,” Arrington said. “And for many years, it wasn’t cut.”
When KNOM called for comment on the facility closure, the Department of Health and Social Services’ spokesman was unavailable. Unless the Legislature agrees to override the governor’s vetoes, the Youth Facility will be open for its last full day on the 14th.