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County begins lengthy process to relocate Social Services above the jail

Hubbard County took preliminary steps to solve its space crunch Thursday, voting to move forward with Requests for Proposals that would eventually plan the relocation of Social Services above the jail.

That will free up the third floor of the courthouse building and much of the second floor for office space and the county boardroom, which will move out of the basement.

The unused space above the jail is 11,500 square feet. It was initially contemplated that the courts would move there, but the price tag, which fluctuated all the way up to several million dollars, was more than the county was willing to swallow.

Social Services has been crammed into 6,000 square feet on two floors of the county office building.

"There's plenty of room there (above the jail) for them," said commissioner Dick Devine. If we get an architect that knows what he's doing," the floor plans would not need to be elaborate or costly.

"Right now there's not a lot (of building) going on," Devine added. "We should get good competitive bids."

Devine said the latest figures show the renovations would cost around $1 million.

"I think we're in the best market available," he said, noting the RFPs should specify using a local workforce only.

Then the courthouse would need renovations t accommodate more meeting rooms for court personnel, move the boardroom. The old boardroom in the basement could be used for juries, which are now crammed into a small room off the large courtroom.

The renovation would also move the law library out of the secured part of the courthouse, where it now sits between judge's chambers. That has concerned the district judges about their security, allowing the public to use the library.

Part of that plan entails rethinking the way key offices deliver services, and commissioners revisited the idea of the "one-stop shop" on the first floor of the courthouse.

Many other counties are gravitating to this concept, cross-training employees so that anyone can take a tax payment or sell a license.

"I'm about ready to implement a no new employee policy again," Robinson said. He has often questioned whether certain departments are overstaffed when the economy is down.

But the departments have already been adapting to the change. For instance, the Recorder's office has been pitching in to help the Assessor's office since not many deeds are being recorded and property tax changes are causing an explosion in the workload of the Assessor's office.

Commissioner Kathy Grell will meet with department heads later this month to get their ideas about consolidating services and revise job descriptions of office personnel.

"It's the ownership of creating your own positions," she said, suggesting the online college M State could be approached to develop a retraining curriculum.

"Our people have to believe it's gonna happen," commissioner Lyle Robinson said. The county needs to hire people that believe in the mission.

"We need to give them the vision and have them send us ideas," Robinson said of tapping the current workforce for input.

"There's a real reluctance to bring people across the hall," he said of the first floor office divisions. "We could use a fleet hiring process if we're sharing employees."

County coordinator Debbie Thompson was enlisted to stars the RFP, while Grell and the board will enlist employee suggestions.

Commissioners agreed the actual process would likely start in 2012.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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