A report to legislators from the state Department of Health and Human Services puts one-time start-up costs for a fourth state psychiatric hospital at $137.2 million. Yearly operating expenses would be about $78 million, with about $61.9 million paid by the state.
Legislators asked the department to determine the cost of building a state hospital for use by a dozen counties including Mecklenburg, Union and Davidson. A state hospital in the region would be the smallest, at 200 beds, the agency study says.
Legislators asked for the study because patients wait an average of more than two days in emergency rooms for openings in state hospitals. The state has 866 beds in its three psychiatric hospitals, and the hospitals are considered full.
The state is building two replacement psychiatric hospitals in Goldsboro and in Morganton. The new Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, set to open this year, will have 124 more beds, bringing its total to 314. The new Broughton Hospital in Morganton will have room for 85 additional beds.
Maximizing space at the new buildings and using the old John Umstead Hospital in Butner could add 271 beds in 2015, the report says.
Early voting backers speak up
Supporters of early voting on Monday released a poll showing strong support in North Carolina for continued early voting.
The survey showed 78 percent of Tar Heel voters support early voting, and 53 percent support Sunday voting. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic leaning firm based in Raleigh.
The poll was released as Republican lawmakers introduced bills that would cut North Carolinas early voting period from 17 to 10 days, and eliminate Sunday voting.
At a news conference in front of the Legislative Building, Progress NC, a Democratic advocacy group, introduced several speakers who said that early voting is a convenient way to vote.
Im an unaffiliated voter, and I always vote, said Candice Davies of Cary. Ive voted early in nine of the last 11 elections because I am very busy with work and family, and I dont have time to wait in long lines to vote. I dont understand how our current state lawmakers would think its wise to shrink early voting and make us wait in longer lines to vote.
Gerrick Brenner of Progress NC said that 57 percent of North Carolina voters or 2.5 million people voted early in 2012.
Florida cut back from 14 to eight early voting days for 2012, and it led, according to some reports, to six hour waits in some locations.
Arts fare better in budget
Little noticed is that two of North Carolinas major cultural institutions the N.C. Symphony and the N.C. Museum of Art emerged from Gov. Pat McCrorys budget proposal with only light cuts.
McCrorys budget cuts state appropriations to the Museum of Art by $39,000 and to the Symphony by $16,000.
The states challenge grant, however, is being proposed to be cut from $1.5 million to $1 million. Under the grant, the state would match private donations.
It should be noted that budget director Art Pope and his wife, Kathy, are major supporters of the arts, particularly the N.C. Symphony.
Republicans have long been some of the movers and shakers in the arts world. Raleighs major cultural venue, now called the Duke Center for the Performing Arts, was renovated and expanded under GOP Mayor Tom Fetzer. Several of the halls are named after cultural leaders who are also significant GOP donors, Dr. Assad Meymandi and K.D. Kennedy.
McCrory was supportive of the arts during his 14 years as Charlotte mayor.
Staff writers Rob Christensen and Lynn Bonner
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