Commissioners discuss use of security systems at courthouse

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The Switzerland County Commissioners are proceeding with plans to install a security system at the Switzerland County Courthouse.

“It started back in August or September,” Commissioner Josh South said. “Judge Coy had brought a proposal to the Commissioners to take a look at the courthouse security. At that time, we formed a committee that included the Sheriff, Judge Coy, and Commissioner Mark Lohide.”

South said that since that time the committee has been looking at different options, with Sheriff Nathan Hughes reporting different elements of the overall proposal to the commissioners.

“It’s ranged from metal detectors to building on to the courthouse to have a secured room to armed guards and a camera system,” South said. “It’s gone all around different options.”

South said that the one thing that the committee and the commissioners have finalized is the location of the check in area.

“We are kind of limited by space,” he said. “We did figure out that the front of the courthouse would be that location, and then the entrance for handicap accessibility will be from the side door, where it currently is – rather than having to put a ramp in the front of the courthouse.”

South said at the commissioners’ last meeting, they asked for a written proposal with all of the recommendations from Sheriff Hughes.

“Right now he’s looking at wanting to hire a couple of people, a couple of guards, part time,” South said. “Implementing camera systems; and potentially doing buzzer systems as well at some of the doors, to allow people to buzz in. We’re still waiting on that proposal, and hopefully we’re going to have it at our next meeting.”

South said that the back doors of the courthouse would be locked at all times, with a key fob system for employees to enter the building, but it would be for employees only.

“That’s one of the biggest heartburns that I kind of had about it, because that’s where the majority of the public accesses the courthouse,” South said. “Logistically, I don’t know how that would really work. As of right now, the proposal that has been highlighted is that access would be from the front of the courthouse.”

Space to provide security entering the courthouse from the back (the new addition) is one of the biggest hurdles to having a check in at both ends of the building, since county offices are almost immediately accessible upon entering the back doors. That severely limits space at that entrance.

“That’s what it really boils down to,” the commissioner said. “The space, and we talked about doing the annex area – that middle section – but there’s too many entrances and exits from that point to have a clear flow all the way through. Space is what Nathan says is the issue on the back end of the building.”

Security systems entering government buildings has become the norm in recent years, with county courthouses and other municipal buildings installing a wide range of security devices and metal detectors in an effort to keep workers and the public in general safe. The Switzerland County Commissioners have been working methodically through the process to make sure that the system that is implemented is one that provides maximum safety with minimal nuisance for those entering the building.

“You hope that in a small community like ours, you don’t have to go to this level,” South said. “But it does look like this is going to be mandated by the state here very soon to have some sort of courthouse security. We’re going to try and do it at a minimal impact. We’re looking at wands instead of metal detection systems, but this is going to be mandated by the state here before too long.”

South said that he anticipates that the system can be brought online pretty quickly once an overall proposal has been agreed to, with some specific aspects of the plan needing more time for installation than others.

“We’re going to have to get approval from council for an additional appropriation for the cost of the project, so it’s going to be at least summer before you’re going to see anything implemented,” South said.

Much of the discussion has centered on cost to the county. South said that the commissioners have been looking at ways to reduce costs; but said that numbers that have been floating around range from $20,000 to $75,000, depending on level of implementation.

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In other business discussed at Monday’s commissioners’ meeting:

– The Highway Department reported that the skid loader was broken, but was already fixed at a cost of $250.

– A request from Duke Energy to stage equipment on the fairgrounds parking lot for a couple months was approved.

– The board approved the purchase of a burnisher to wax floors on all county buildings at a cost of $979.

– The commissioners did not approve the purchase of all old phone equipment from Century Link. The equipment is outdated and the board discussed the possibility of changing phone service provider.

– Building Inspector Mark Archer reported to the board about the issue of the clean up of property on Tapps Ridge. He ask the board to give the property owner another 30 days to clean it up.

Commissioner Jerry Monjar made a motion to add the additional 30 days, but the motion died.

The property owner spoke to the board and said he was trying to get the property cleaned up, but he didn’t think he could do it in the 30 days as the ordinance states is the time frame. South made a motion to extend it for two weeks. The motion was approved and the land owner has until April 17th to comply.

– Keli Gabbard gave the board two applications for the employment opening at the Switzerland County Animal Shelter. The board will review the applications in the executive session.

– The county responded to the request to form a committee to address the drug issue in Switzerland County. A motion to form a committee was approved and Commissioner Mark Lohide will be on the committee for the board. The Community Foundation also is interested in getting involved with the issue.