07/02/06 — Initial Cherry vote encourages Kerr

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Initial Cherry vote encourages Kerr

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 2, 2006 2:13 AM

A "long shot" bill that N.C. Sen. John Kerr III, D-District 5, introduced at the General Assembly in May is one step closer to bringing a new psychiatric facility to Goldsboro, Kerr said Saturday.

The legislation, which was introduced by Kerr and co-sponsor Sen. Martin Nesbit Jr., D-District 49, was presented as two Senate bills and called for $310 million for construction of hospitals in Goldsboro and Morganton.

"The bill would appropriate $145.5 million for Cherry Hospital," Kerr said, adding there would be limits on spending until the 2007-08 fiscal year begins.

If the bill makes it through two more rounds of voting, Kerr said $20 million will be allocated for the upcoming fiscal year. The funds will be used for planning, site selection and testing. But once the 2007-08 fiscal year begins, there are not expected to be restrictions on spending, he added.

"It looks like all of the money will be there for a new Cherry Hospital," he said. "But it will probably be next year before construction begins."

Kerr said the bill has made it through the first of three votes. The remaining votes are expected to take place this week, he added. And while there is no guarantee yet that the bill will make it through, Kerr said he feels confident that the pending approval is just a formality.

"I think everything is in good shape," he said.

The Cherry project will be financed through certificates of participation, which Kerr called, a "very conservative way to borrow money."

Before their most recent session began, legislators were informed that the state had more than $2 billion in surplus, and many legislators introduced bills to help spend the available money.

In May, Kerr said everyone had their own idea, but only a select few would be chosen as worthy expenditures.

"There are millions and millions of good ideas," Kerr said. "But we can't do them all."

Kerr said he has been working on resolving problems at current psychiatric facilities for the past eight years and hopes his colleagues from around the state will approve the $145.5 million Cherry Hospital plan.

In May, Dr. Jack St. Clair, director of Cherry Hospital, said Kerr and Sen. Mark Basnight visited the Goldsboro facility to see the conditions there.

They indicated in the coming short session of the General Assembly, it would be at or near the top of their list of recommendations," he said. "As I understand, what's being envisioned for the two hospitals is that they would be designed and constructed similarly to the one being built in Butner. It's a state-of-the-art facility."

Kerr said a final decision might come down this week in Raleigh and that he is hoping for the best.

"I have a lot of faith in this project," he said. "It has been a total team effort and I am proud of Sen. Basnight and everyone who has worked on getting a new facility out there at Cherry Hospital."