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Building use decision causes controversy

By Staff | Sep 16, 2016

At a recent special meeting, the Jefferson County Commission made a decision to relocate the county’s prosecuting attorney’s staff. Currently the staffers are housed in a rented building where the lease expires Nov. 1.

Last month, the commission purchased a building located at 120 S. George St. in Charles Town at a cost of $900,000. Their intended use has consistently been to house the prosecuting attorney’s offices in this new location.

That move has met with contention from members of the prosecutor’s office who have indicated that the building is not suited to their needs.

The meeting last Thursday addressed whether to instead, relocate the Planning, Zoning and Engineering offices from their home in the Mason Building on Washington Street and place the prosecutors there. Commissioners had received comments from both departments prior to the meeting and made the decision to keep the PZ&E offices where they are because of needed access by the public.

Commissioners also debated over the amount of construction and renovation work to do within the new building.

Commissioner Walt Pellish suggested a minimal amount of work until after the election.

“They [the prosecutor’s office] have wants on what to do to that building but we need to do the minimum renovation until after the election.” Current prosecutor Ralph Lorenzetti is not seeking reelection. A new proseucting attorney will take the helm after the November election.

Assistant prosecutor Brandon Sims, who had previously submitted a renovation plan with regard to what the prosecutor’s staff would need in the building, told commissioners that the building does not work for their offices.

“It is confusing to me why you would move us into a building that doesn’t work for us and then change it later,” she said. Sims indicated that the Prosecutor’s office may take action against the commission because the commission is not providing a location that suits the needs of an elected officer. The County Commission is required to provide office space to elected officials, according to Stephanie Grove, county administrator.

While sensitive to the desires of members of the prosecuting staff, commissioners decided that moving ahead with minimal renovation and moving the offices will allow the staff to actually decide what works best down the road.

“This provides you, the prosecuting attorney, to make an excursion off the plan. You may find once you’re in there that experience may change your plan,” Peter Onosko told Sims.

Commission president Patsy Noland instructed Bill Polk, maintenance director, to move forward with the minimal plan he had previously presented.

“We directed our maintenance director to move forward with the plan that we would be able to get the offices in with the least amount of construction because of the time element we’re facing now,” Noland said. “The main thing right now is doing the work that is necessary.”

Construction, which will begin immediately and continue in the coming weeks, will include adding walls and doors and completing electrical work. Internet systems have already been installed, and Noland said several thousand dollars’ worth of work had been completed at the site by the previous owner.

The goal is to move the prosecuting staff by the third week of October.