GREENFIELD — With the approval of a plan to build a new sheriff’s administration building at the site of the new Hancock County jail, county government is looking for ways to use other county buildings that maximize benefits for all departments.
It will be at least five years before any offices can move into vacant space at the current jail/sheriff’s department, which is a key space in any re-arrangement of offices. In the meantime, county commissioners are hoping to move the prosecutor’s office out of its nearly 150-year-old building.
That may pose difficulties for other departments. County Recorder Marcia Moore objected to one proposed plan, which would have seen the prosecutor’s office sharing space at the county annex building, located at 111 American Legion Place, with the recorder’s and assessor’s offices.
“You came into my office with a plan and said this was going to happen by the end of the year,” Moore said at the Feb. 4 meeting of the county commissioners.
Up to 10 people are viewing records in the recorder’s office at any one time, Moore said, and she would need a space at least the size of the one in her current office for the department to be able to successfully continue its work.
The recorder’s office is the repository of all records relating to property in the county, as well as other documents.
Moore said she and the other elected officials had never been invited to a commissioners’ meeting to discuss the plans before the announcement of a new sheriff’s administration building.
“Now that I’ve been there a year, I know that it is essential and critical to have a public access area. It can’t be like a little sliver in the hallway — that’s not going to be sufficient,” said Moore, who served two terms as county clerk before being elected recorder in 2018.
She said it might make more sense to displace the planning office to make room for the prosecutor’s office, rather than the other departments that are housed in the annex.
“We are still more than willing to be good citizens and good stewards of our public money, but without a public access area for the recorder, I feel as if my office cannot move. I don’t know the answer,” Moore said.
But the situation at the prosecutor’s office demands a solution as well. Prosecutor Brent Eaton has said that his department’s offices, located in the former jail built in 1871, presents several problems for employees. Space is limited and employees have had to deal with issues like frozen pipes in the winter; high temperatures in the summer; and a section of ceiling collapsing. The office is also overcrowded.
Recently, a bat took up residence in one of the offices.
Since long-term plans to reshuffle the county offices are expected to take several years, employees of the prosecutor’s office need somewhere with better conditions to work in the meantime.
The plan for county buildings has not been finalized, but it would involve remodeling the current county jail and connected sheriff’s administration building as a space that could be used by the offices of the probation department and Hancock County Community Corrections. The Community Corrections building next door on East Main Street would then house the prosecutor’s office.
That would leave the main prosecutor’s office at 27 American Legion Place vacant. Commissioner John Jessup said the building is not in good condition, but its status as a historic building means it cannot be demolished. The county would not want to be responsible for its upkeep in the long term, he said.
“I know we wouldn’t use it any longer for the county offices, so we’d probably be looking to see if the historical society or somebody else wanted it,” Jessup said.
Renovations to public buildings would likely be funded by the county’s $5 million general obligation bond that was recently sold to investors. Work on the county courthouse and annex building was listed among the projects for the bond revenue to be spent on.
The commissioners discussed the issue again at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Though they did not reach a final solution, they agreed it would be impractical for the prosecutor’s office to spend another five years in its current building.
County commissioner Brad Armstrong said it is important that the prosecutor’s office be moved.
“I’m embarrassed to have people work at that building,” Armstrong said.
Eaton said he was hoping for a solution on a shorter timeline than five years that would keep his office in one location.
“If there was a space that was appropriate to house all of our people and could really work, we would move yesterday,” Eaton said at the commissioners’ meeting. “Unfortunately, I don’t see that option on the table.”
County council president Bill Bolander said although the decision is up to the commissioners, the prosecutor’s office is in “such a dismal state” that it needs to be a priority for the county to find somewhere else the department can work.
“We’re just going to shuffle things around,” Bolander said.
Moore said she has spoken to the commissioners since raising her concerns and they have been receptive to her concerns about the need for adequate space.
An important responsibility of the recorder’s office, she said, is to make sure records are accessible to the public, and some citizens want to browse records dating back to the founding of Hancock County.
“It’s ultimately up to the commissioners, but I’m sure they will listen to the department heads,” Moore said.