NASELLE, Wash. - The future of the Naselle Youth Camp is still uncertain.
Washington state Senate Democrats released their proposed budget Monday morning. In a surprise move, the senators rejected Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to close the camp and want instead to close or convert the 120-year-old Green Hill juvenile prison in Chehalis.
However, Washington state House Democrats released their budget wishes Tuesday and went along with the governor's initial plan to keep Green Hill open and close Naselle.
Both the Senate and House plans are expected to be extensively debated and reworked. Typically, final differences in budgets and legislation are hammered out during last-minute negotiations just before the legislative session ends. That date is set for April 26, but may be later in the spring if negotiations drag out. Democrats possess decisive control of both halves of the Washington Legislature, but are certain to fight over budget details.
Possible loss of Naselle Youth Camp, one of Pacific County's top five employers and its only significant state facility, has generated heated reactions from local citizens and lawmakers.
Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, is leading efforts to keep Naselle open, possibly as a trade-off for support on other items by Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, has suggested the move to keep Naselle open comes down to favoritism for a Democratic county.
"The proposal to shut the doors at Green Hill defies common sense," DeBolt told the Centralia Chronicle. "It jeopardizes our state's juvenile rehabilitation network and asks taxpayers and families to pay the price for a political turf war."
DeBolt and his party are very much in the minority, trailing in the state House by 63-35. Clearly, at least for now, House Democrats have in any event chosen not to go along with Senate salvation of NYC, no matter why that chamber may be choosing the path that it is.
"Naselle Youth Camp plays a crucial role in rehabilitating these kids in a cost efficient way. The camp is the best place for them and putting them into the traditional justice system would have devastating effects," Hatfield said in a press release issued before the House made its contrary announcement. "Any savings from closing NYC would have come at a cost the 19th district could not afford."
According to Hatfield, closing Green Hill and keeping Naselle Youth Camp open achieves a net savings of approximately $2.4 million in 2009-11 biennial budget.
"Closing the youth camp would have completely devastated Naselle. We know that there are a lot of places to find savings in a huge budget like ours, but closing the camp would have destroyed the lives of hundreds of our friends and neighbors in Pacific County," Hatfield said. "I'm glad we were able to protect the facility and still balance the budget."
According to the Chronicle, the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration is preparing for the possibility that Green Hill could be transformed into an adult facility.
"The linchpin for the case to keep the facility open is the nature of the inmates who reside there," the Chronicle reported last week. "Green Hill Superintendant Marybeth Queral said the indications she is getting from Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration leadership are that the recommendation from the Legislature will be to close Green Hill and combine it with Maple Lane School in Grand Mound."
Under Tuesday's proposal from the House, however, Naselle students would be transferred to Grand Mound.