Bremerton's Frances Haddon Morgan Center escapes chopping block, not cuts

Despite cuts, the Legislature spared Bremerton's Frances Haddon Morgan Center from being shuttered, giving families and employees reason to breathe easy after months of uncertainty.

"I think it's absolutely great," center Superintendent Carol Kirk said Tuesday. "The employees are incredibly pleased, all the families are incredibly pleased."

The budget approved by the Legislature early Tuesday called for $800,000 in cuts to the state's five residential habilitation centers, including the Morgan Center, which houses 56 severely autistic residents. Gov. Christine Gregoire's and the state Senate's proposed budgets called for the closure of the center to help close a $2.8 billion budget deficit through summer 2011. The closure was projected to save the state $1.3 million in 2012 and $2.1 million per year from 2013 through 2019.

"It's good to finally actually have a decision that's been pending for so long," Kirk said, adding that Morgan Center employees have been on edge for the past few months waiting for the Legislature's decision.

Bill Looney, a Silverdale resident whose daughter has lived at the Morgan Center since 1978, said the center was saved thanks to the efforts of residents' families.

"We've been fighting for it for a long time," he said. "We hope we don't have to go through this nonsense again."

Although Kirk said it's too early to tell how the $800,000 statewide cut will affect the Morgan Center, the residential center would probably have to postpone any maintenance and make reductions in its adult training program.

Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the Legislature determined that communities could not provide the services needed by residents had the residential habilitation centers closed.

"We all agreed that we weren't ready to close the facilities," Rolfes said.

The state Office of Financial Management will have residents interviewed to determine whether they should stay or would be better served in community care, Rolfes said. In the long term, she hopes residential habilitation centers will expand its services to the public and include counseling and support for families, medical and dental care and adult day health services.

The Morgan Center was unaffected by last week's layoff of 160 Department of Social and Health Services employees, Kirk said, but predicts that there will be another round of layoffs in the department that could affect center employees.

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