Sheriff’s Office study still in early stage

WOODSTOCK – A new headquarters for the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office remains out of reach for now as elected leaders consider the agency’s space needs.

The county hired Grimm and Parker last year to study the Sheriff’s Office space needs and provide preliminary ideas and costs for potential solutions. The firm’s feasibility study recommends that the county build a new headquarters on property at 818 N. Main St., Woodstock. The estimated costs for three options range from $9.7 million to $10.9 million. Grimm and Parker has recommended the county pursue the $9.7 million option.

Grimm and Parker determined that the Sheriff’s Office needs approximately 30,000 square feet. The agency now operates in less than 10,000 square feet under the circuit court building.

Sheriff Timothy C. Carter pointed out that the county analyzed his agency’s space needs three times in the past 15 years or so. Grimm and Parker’s feasibility study includes recommendations on what the county could build and where and for how much.

“This is a confirmation that the Sheriff’s Office staff are working in a facility that was never designed to be a Sheriff’s Office for one and I don’t think any of that has changed,” Carter said Friday. “If anything, it’s gotten worse over the years.

“I looked at this as, OK, we’re gonna, for lack of a better word, update that information because you’ve got new board members and that information was dated,” Carter added. “I think we wanted to give them a realistic picture of a cost analysis for such a facility if that was a project that they would approve.”

The Sheriff’s Office receives questions about its use of the former jail closed since a regional facility opened in Warren County, Carter said. Part of Grimm and Parker’s analysis looked at the potential use of the former jail to suit the agency’s space needs – information that the board also now has, Carter added.

What the Board of Supervisors does with the information provided in the feasibility study and whether or not members heed the recommendations of the latest analysis remains uncertain.

“I think all the board members … have a clear understanding of the working conditions of the Sheriff’s Office staff,” Carter said. “I mean they’ve been there for about 40 years now so I don’t think this is any surprise to any of them.

“Where we go from here, I don’t know the answer to that,” Carter added. “I mean my hope is that at some point we may have enough asset forfeiture money to help finance this.”

The Sheriff’s Office has approximately $3.1 million in asset forfeiture funds – money the department receives through its joint operations with federal law enforcement agencies.

Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass stated by email Friday that the $6 million cost estimate exists in planning documents, specifically the Sheriff’s Office capital improvement plan, but did not come about through any formal studies. Carter called the $6 million an arbitrary figure they continued to use.

Whether or not the county asks the firm to design a complex for a lower cost depends on input from the Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff’s Office and professional opinions from the architects, Vass said. Grimm and Parker plan to come back before the board to answer questions, receive comments and discuss the conceptual stage of the process with supervisors and the sheriff.

County officials told Grimm and Parker about the $6 million figure early on in the process, Carter recalled.

“We wanted a realistic picture of a contemporary sheriff’s facility,” Carter said. “They knew that we’d done that and they knew that we hadn’t done any empirical support, there was basically an arbitrary number … I think you’re doing a disservice when you hire a consultant like here’s a figure, what can we fit in it.”

Municipal governments often borrow money for large construction projects through the state’s sale of bonds on the open market. Should the county seek to borrow money through the issuance of general obligation bonds, it would need to pose the question to voters as a referendum on an election ballot. County officials would determine the funding options for a new headquarters should work on the project move beyond the conceptual stage, Vass said.

The county also has used savings or unassigned fund balance to cover one-time costs for projects. The county had $21.51 million in unassigned fund balance as of June 30, 2015. However, the county must retain $12.46 million in its unassigned fund balance to meet its required liquidity reserve of 12.5 percent. The county budgeted $5.37 million in the current fiscal year from savings leaving $3.67 million over the target fiscal reserve.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or