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City seeks partners to help fund sobering center project

MORGANTOWN — It’s an ambitious plan.

Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli admits as much.

But why not?

The state put up more than $3 million in CARES Act money to help turn the former Ramada Inn facility into a hub for community resources — including a 5,000-square-foot sobering center.

Now the community has to step up and make it happen.

Muzzarelli recently told a group of local government, law enforcement and court officials that she would like to see an executive director hired by the July 1 start of the fiscal year with an ultimate goal of having the sobering center open this fall.

“That may be shooting for the stars,” she said. “But we need to set lofty goals and be very aggressive in going after them.”

Based on early figures, Muzzarelli pitched a preliminary first-year budget of $370,000, about a third of which would be paid by the city. 

Based on those numbers, a $50,000 buy-in from WVU and Monongalia County, as well as $30,000 from WVU Medicine and Mon Health, would be supplemented by grant funding and participation from Westover, Granville and Star City. 

The road map, Muzzarelli said, would begin by setting up a nonprofit and board of directors to work with the facility director to implement a program and use the financial support provided by participating agencies.

The presentation was universally well-received.

The goal, County Prosecutor Perri DeChristopher said, is not to keep people from going to jail — as being intoxicated is not by itself a jailable offense — as much as it  is to prevent intoxicated people from getting into further problems and eliminate hours of what is essentially law enforcement or emergency room babysitting.

Based on the immediate reaction, and the long-standing desire for such a facility, there appears to be buy-in from the major players.

“I think we have widespread agreement that this is something that we should move forward on,” Monongalia County Commission President Sean Sikora said.

Muzzarelli said she intends to reach out to municipalities regarding their interest in the coming weeks.

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