By J.R. Williams -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- A local detox center faces a murky future after City Council members voted down a $25,000 lifeline for it Tuesday night.
The Starting Point Public Inebriate Center, at 317 S. Cameron St., has been in talks with city and Frederick County leaders on how to restore a portion of its funding in the wake of significant budget cuts.
Center director Scott Anderson initially requested more than $180,000 from the city, but received only $90,000.
The program has been the subject of much debate since the initial reduction. Supporters of the center, including many recovering addicts, lobbied for a complete restoration of the funds during an emotional City Council meeting in May.
But city officials did not reach a consensus Tuesday night, and denied the $25,000 in a split vote. The funds would have ensured the center's operation for another six months.
"You've got to look at the social costs," Council President Jeff Buettner said. "Are we not fostering [criminal] activity?"
Starting Point operates a residential program for recovering addicts, as well as a place where police can drop off those who are drunk in public rather than taking them to jail.
The program is jointly funded with Frederick County. County Administrator John R. Riley Jr. has said a $90,000 appropriation by the city would spell the end of the center.
But Councilman Michael Butler, a supporter of the program, said that likely would not be the case.
Starting Point has options, he said, including reducing its hours, cutting the number of days it's open or scaling back the residential program.
"We haven't discussed a long-term plan," he said. "We're going to have to get with John Riley and Starting Point staff to discuss what the alternatives are."
Critics of the center raised issues of recidivism during the funding debate, which led to interdictions filed in the court that would prohibit the sale of alcohol to "habitual drunkards."
Subjects of those petitions were identified based on their use of the center.
"Yes, there are issues, but they're being addressed," Butler said. "One of my hopes is that we can revisit these issues and show members of council that we have done our part," he said.
Several council members said the Inebriate Center saves money compared to incarceration.
"The money spent here saves us in many other programs," Councilman Evan Clark said. "It really does help the citizens of Winchester. Cutting funds is penny-wise and pound foolish."
Councilmen Butler, Evan Clark, John Hill and Mayor Elizabeth Minor voted for the $25,000 appropriation. Councilmen Art Major, Milt McInturff, Les Veach, John Willingham and Buettner voted against appropriating the funds.