Bunkie officials go to Legislature to lobby for juvenile detention center funding

Mayor Mike Robertson, Mayor-elect Bruce Coulon and Rev. Frank Friels, pastor of 1st Union Baptist Church, traveled to Baton Rouge on May 2 to talk to state legislators about the fate of Acadiana Center for Youth -- the completed, but vacant, juvenile detention center in Bunkie.

Robertson said the group talked to Rep. Robert Johnson, Sen. Eric LaFleur, Bunkie native Sen. Ronnie Johns of Sulphur and other legislators.

“ACY will not become an evacuation center,” Robertson said. “They felt funding will be considered in the special session immediately following the current session.”

Legislators are wanting to end the current session two weeks early so the special session can start and be finished by the time the regular session would end in early June. If they can do that, it will save the state almost $1 million, Robertson said.

Funding for ACY will depend on raising enough revenue in the special session. The group was told one option being considered is to renew 1/2 cent of the temporary 1-cent tax that is set to expire June 30.

If the happens, Robertson said, ACY will likely be funded so it can be staffed and open.

Friels, whose church is located across the street from the center, traveled with Robertson and Coulon to offer his support for opening the facility.

“It is going to take the special session to get the funding straight,” Coulon said. “Our legislators are working to get the funding needed for ACY to open. Officials with the Office of Juvenile Justice are wanting just enough money to get a soft opening. They made the request at the Senate Finance Committee recently.”

The Bunkie City Council started a petition in late April asking the Legislature to fund ACY. It also adopted a resolution calling for funding of the juvenile detention center at its April 12 meeting.

The petition had already collected several hundred names in a few weeks. Legislators were shown the petition signatures to date. Friels and church member Lucille Daniels obtained signatures by setting up a table at the Piggly Wiggly in Bunkie.

Robertson said they were told to hang on to the petitions until the special session and then bring the petition to the Legislature. Robertson said the petitions will circulate in Bunkie until the special session starts.

“The citizens of Avoyelles Parish and Bunkie community wanted the state leaders to be aware of the benefits of this facility, its mission, and the positive impact it would have on our community,” Robertson said. “We knew it was a short notice, but we wanted to show legislators that Bunkie is supportive of the facility.”

Officials have also received letters of support from residents, businesses, court system officials, elected officials', religious organizations, civic clubs and land owners.

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