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Probation staff worries about security

August 8, 2012
Jenn Brookens - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Concerns about confidentiality and safety prompted a request for Martin County commissioners to tour the law enforcement center Tuesday.

After approving housing newly appointed supervised visitation coordinator Jane Vader in a vacant office in the same hall as the probation department, the probation department voiced concerns about confidentiality being compromised, as well as safety issues.

"It isn't until you get a walk through of the building and see the design that you appreciate the issue," said Commissioner Steve Pierce.

A suggestion was made to put a security door in the hallway to separate the probation department from the section that leads into the second floor courtrooms and the court administration offices.

"We are looking more at the separation of the two departments," said Julie Grunewald of the probation department. "We're not saying we need an extra degree of security than anyone else on the floor."

Becky Bentele of Victim/Witness protective services, however, spoke out against the probation department's request.

"They are no more compromised than the court administration," she said. "We all have things that are confidential ... I resent the idea that they need lockdown areas and more doors. We are equally secure as we are right now."

The main problem stems from too many departments being housed in the building. Along with ongoing problems with the jail, office space in the rest of the building is at a premium.

"We keep shoving more and more people in that building, sooner or later you have to look at some bigger planning," Pierce said. "Eventually this board needs to pull up our pants and deal with this ... We have a lot of good people here, but if we don't address these issues, we may start losing them. We already lost the public defense, what else will the state take away?"

Both the court administration offices and probation department are housed on the second floor, and both require stringent security measures. Behind the security doors for both portions, a back hallway connects the two. However, the office now being used by Vader is in the same hallway as the probation department, although it is equally as distant from the court administration offices.

"None of us have an ideal set-up," Bentele said. "But I don't understand how [a security door] will help any."

There is also the cost of putting in a security door.

"We would need to hire an architect," said Commissioner Dan Schmidtke. "To spend that bunch of money because someone's in that office for 15 hours a week? That's just stupidity."

There are also issues with building code, and which side of the hallway would have control of the "panic bar."

After commissioners toured the area of concern, it was noted there would be no reason to gain access to Vader's office through the probation department.

"I appreciate Becky's comment in that they're all confidential," Pierce said.

"There's an easy way out of this," Schmidtke said. "And that's to leave it alone."

Schmidtke then made the motion, which unanimously passed.

In other business, commissioners:

o Approved a one-time $25,000 donation to the Martin County Humane Society for its building expansion project. The Humane Society raised $70,000 of its $120,000 goal before the donation from the county.

o Reviewed the preliminary 2013 budget and discussed levy limits.

Last year, the county limited the levy hike to 1.9 percent, but spent $509,000 from reserves. Without the reserves, the levy hike would have been 8.47 percent.

Next year's preliminary budget and department requests would boost the levy 13.58 percent.

"I realize that's not going to fly," said Martin County Auditor Jim Forshee. "But if we cut some and use some reserves, not as much as last year, and start putting some back ... I already looked and found about $200,000 that could be cut, but that's only 2 percent so far."

A preliminary levy limit needs to be turned into the state by Sept. 15. After that, the county can lower the levy, but cannot raise it.



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