Last updated: February 11. 2014 7:55PM - 1002 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentThe Sampson Board of Commissioners may soon be looking at another expense, facing a request by probation officials for more space and necessary accommodations to include a bathroom for drug testing.
Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentThe Sampson Board of Commissioners may soon be looking at another expense, facing a request by probation officials for more space and necessary accommodations to include a bathroom for drug testing.
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County officials are looking for space — with a limited amount of their own on hand — to accommodate the needs of a growing probation staff it is required by state law to house. It will likely come at a cost.

Paige Wade, the Judicial District Manager for Sampson, Duplin and Jones counties (District 4), recently made a request to county manager Ed Causey for additional office space for Sampson County probation officers. The N.C. Probation staff in Sampson received an additional judicial service coordinator and probation officer, but is running out of room.

“Based on the current office space we occupy in Sampson County I am in need of at least two additional offices to accommodate the new positions,” Wade stated. “We have one office in the courthouse annex, but there are a couple of issues.”

In addition to those related to officer safety, a main issue is having no bathroom facilities for officers to conduct drug screens on offenders. Officers are mandated to collect urinalysis for the offender population under supervision in a bathroom designated just for that purpose — at this time, those facilities are not available.

Causey said some space can be found, but many items are still in the air.

“We currently have 17 people working for Probation in this county and they’re getting ready to get two more,” said Causey.”As this courthouse security thing has developed, they have expressed interest in having space for two more probation officers.”

They would like to create a space in some upstairs offices at the courthouse annex. Causey said county staff was somewhat concerned about fully occupying those offices because it is unknown as of yet what kind of offices will be needed for bailiffs and storage for related equipment for courthouse security.

“As we develop some of these scenarios, we’re going to need that space,” the county manager remarked.

Wade said if the county decides to take the office space in the annex, probation staff will need three offices instead of two. Probation officials spoke with Clerk of Court personnel about some other space, and were told those offices were not available.

Causey said the only alternative the county had was the modular unit attached to the Inspections offices, where there are eight offices currently being utilized for storage by the Inspections and Recreation departments. The modular unit was added on years back when the Department of Social Services needed additional space.

“If they were to use that space, we would need to add a bathroom where they could do their drug testing and not be walking people back through the facility, which would entail a few dollars,” Causey said.

“After viewing the office space at the County Complex, we believe an entire unit could be moved to this location,” the judicial district manager remarked.

If the transition can take place, it would free up some office space at the courthouse, mainly in the basement, Wade noted.

While Probation officials have expressed a desire to use the entire facility, the county manager said he did not believe he was in a position to recommend that. Causey said the county would have to deal with those stored materials, as well as other ongoing issues and was reluctant to release the whole building to Probation.

Causey said the county could pursue trying to develop a bathroom in that end of the building, as well as arrange for them to have three offices to fulfill the immediate need for new personnel.

“At the same time we do that, there will be some cost for adding that facility,” Causey commented. “We really don’t know what else to do other than trying to get that together. That’s about the only real space I have left.”

The county is required to provide office space for N.C. Probation personnel. In his discussions with Probation officials, Causey said he told them he did not think renting space downtown was an option, with other major expenditures the county was making — courthouse security among many others.

“I do believe we have an obligation to accommodate them and I would like to work with them,” Causey said.

Public Works director Lee Cannady noted that it could take as much as $15,000-$20,000 to install a bathroom, with necessary plumbing, hot water and related fixtures. One of the existing offices would be utilized, so while it would not be an addition, one of the offices would have to be completely overhauled.

“It’s not prepared for any plumbing whatsoever,” said Cannady.

Board chairman Jefferson Strickland inquired as to whether there were any supplies or bathroom fixtures in the old County Home building, set to be razed, that could be moved to the modular unit. Cannady said that possibility is being looked at, with the $15,000-$20,000 a high-end estimate and “not to exceed” threshold.

Cannady said if he could do it for a few thousand, that is what it would be.

“That surprises me on that number. The key word is ‘shoestring,’” Strickland said, referring to the budget.

Causey said he and Cannady would look into more concrete numbers and available supplies for the needed bathroom and report back to the board.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

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