One month after voters in East Baton Rouge Parish rejected a proposed property tax that would have funded The Bridge Center for Hope, a mental health diversion and crisis stabilization center, the center’s board of directors is preparing to meet next week for the first time since the election and figure out where to go from here.
“This is critical for the community,” says District Attorney Hillar Moore III, a member of the center’s board. “We will keep working on it.”
What exactly that means, however, is hard to say. Executive Director Rob Reardon says he’s had some internal discussions about bringing the issue back before voters, though the earliest that could happen would be the next regularly scheduled election this fall. But so far there’s no decision on if and when another dedicated millage might find its way onto a local ballot.
In the short term, Reardon will be applying for grants that, if awarded, would enable the center to fund some sort of program on a limited basis. Reardon is also waiting to hear on a couple of grants totaling some $100,000 that he applied for last fall. One of those grants would enable the center to potentially establish a pretrial mental health program.
“But that would not be enough to enable us to provide direct services,” Reardon says. “It would be more of a referral set up.”
Prior to the election, Bridge Center officials said if the tax failed they would still try to open a sobering unit at the very least. Reardon says that’s a possibility but it will depend on how much funding comes through and from what sources.
Board members say they’re not giving up. Moore attributes several of the city’s recent homicides to “mental health issues,” and says the crimes point to the need for the facility.
“The community wants this and needs it,” he says. “Obviously those few who came out to vote wanted government to pay for it without new taxes. I surely understand their reluctance, this is critical, however.”
Board member Mary Ann Sternberg says she doesn’t have any specific solutions in mind but hopes when the board meets Jan. 18 they will come up with a plan of action.
“This is a critical need and it is absolutely critical that this happen,” she says. “What a pity that there were so many things to vote on that people voted no, no, no.”