- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri House leaders on Monday unveiled a proposal to pay for a new facility on the Fulton State Hospital campus.

Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream said the plan calls for issuing bonds and paying them off over five years, with annual payments being slightly less than $47 million. He announced the proposal during a news conference with several legislators, including Speaker Tim Jones and Majority Leader John Diehl.

The Fulton State Hospital is Missouri’s only maximum-security psychiatric facility - and it’s also the oldest public mental health facility west of the Mississippi River. Patients include those committed by the courts for evaluation and treatment, and people found not guilty or unable to stand trial because of mental disease.

Gov. Jay Nixon has proposed issuing $198 million in bonds through a development finance board. Stream, R-Kirkwood, said Monday that his bonding proposal would pay off the debt sooner and could save $120 million. He called it “the best way to go financially for the taxpayers of Missouri.”

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the governor’s office appreciates that lawmakers are trying to replace the “dangerous and deteriorating” facility.

“We applaud Chairman Stream for working on a bipartisan plan to issue bonds to address this issue so that the project can begin without needless delay,” Holste said in a statement. “As this continues to move through the process, we look forward to working with members of the Senate and others to fund this project in the most cost-effective way possible.”

The bonds would be revenue bonds and not general obligation bonds, which require voter approval and demand a tax increase if the state ever stopped payments. Some have voiced concern about not holding a vote, but supporters say Missouri has funded other projects this way.

Officials say a new facility would save money from utilities, overtime and workers’ compensation costs and would avoid deferred maintenance costs and need for a new sex offender facility.

Among the existing facilities housing patients at the Fulton State Hospital is the maximum-security Biggs Forensic Center, the intermediate-security Guhleman Forensic Center and the Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services unit. Mental health officials have proposed demolishing Biggs and other buildings and constructing a new 300-bed facility to house patients from Biggs and Guhleman. That would free beds for Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services.

The state’s current budget includes $13 million for design, which could be completed by the end of this year. Work could start in spring 2015.