Warren County’s chief prosecutor needs more office space for his staff and records, officials say.
Director of Public Works Jeff Hayes explained to the Board of Supervisors at a work session on Tuesday that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, at approximately 2,000 square feet, lacks the space the agency needs. Staff members have come up with at least a temporary remedy until they can develop a permanent solution.
The county could move records from the prosecutors’ office and two courts to other areas such as the former jail to open up more workspace for attorneys and staff, Hayes told supervisors. The project would cost approximately $34,000 and take eight weeks to move in furniture and set up the new workspace, Hayes said. County employees can do some of the work on the project such as painting and adding a door, he said.
County Administrator Edwin Daley said the budget includes the money needed to cover the cost of the project. Daley and Hayes asked for supervisors’ endorsements for the project.
Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell said seven attorneys and four staff members work in the office. The victim-witness coordinator works in the old county jail downtown. Bell said one attorney works in a former file room, two work in one office and another in a conference room. The administrative employees work in one space. Photographs provided in the presentation show offices with paperwork and files stacked on the floor, on top of filing cabinets and across desks.
The county can set up four cubicles in the archives area to provide workspace for staff, which would also give the office more room for attorneys to talk to clients and for filing, Hayes said. In order to create the space, the county would need to move files from the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, the Circuit Court and Bell’s office most likely to unused but secure space above the old jail, Hayes said. However, the clerk has said she needs her office space back once they complete the move, Hayes added.
The county also may consider creating more space by refurbishing the former sheriff’s office or the work release area, Hayes added. The sheriff’s office may serve as the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court office, which would free up approximately 6,000 square feet in the courthouse for future growth, Hayes said.
Supervisors Delores R. Oates pointed out that as these offices grow, the county needs to consider where people can park. Some of these alternatives for finding office space would eliminate parking spaces, Oates said. Then the county would need to find a new spot for the courthouse, Hayes said.
The former sheriff’s office includes approximately 50 parking spaces, Hayes said. But the lot fills up most days already, he added. Bell concurred.
“One of the downsides of the recovery of Main Street and the new restaurants is what used to be readily available parking behind Main Street is now almost always full and so we’re getting a lot more impact,” Bell said. “Let’s put it this way: if you are not in one of those spots by 8:40 (a.m.), you’re parking at the sheriff’s office.”
The county needs to work with the town to resolve the parking problem, Oates said.
“Our economic growth is gonna impact that and we have a growing demand ... at the courthouse and you have a growing demand,” Oates said. “We’re gonna have to deal with it ... which is a great thing, I mean, this is a great problem to have.”
“But this (project) would give immediate relief for his staff,” Hayes said.
“It would be very nice to have a conference room back,” Bell said.
The attorney said he would welcome the additional room although how staff would use the space remains another matter.
“I’m not delighted, frankly, with putting people across and down the hall because there’s a certain synergy that comes from having all my lawyers in one location, being able to share files, being able to have quick conversations about cases,” Bell said. “The one virtue of the cramped office is the communication is great. It’s almost unavoidable.”
Oates asked earlier in the discussion if the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office is digitizing files to eliminate the need for more space. Digitization is an ongoing process, Bell said. The Library of Virginia requires that the office retain some records for certain amounts of time, Bell said. But his office lacks the resources needed to digitize all the files, he said. The office digitizes records as they go with a goal of making backup copies of the documents after which they can be shredded, he added. The office otherwise would need to spend more time and money, buying scanners and hiring part-time help to digitize all documents in the next decade, Bell said.
Board Chairwoman Cheryl L. Cullers noted that land records kept in the Circuit Court cannot be digitized nor destroyed.