WHEELING - Ohio County officials looking for more space may have found an answer to their growing - or shrinking - problem.
County offices face the challenges of storing documents and having confidential talks with people, and Prosecutor Scott Smith raised the issue during his recent budget hearing with county commissioners.
"I know space in the building is at a premium in the courthouse, but we are doing the best we can with the limited space we have," he said. "In the future, anything the county could do to provide us more space would be appreciated. It would really help with the work we do - especially when we have people come in that we want to have private conferences with. We are unable to do that. I think it would be both good for us and average citizens if we had a place to talk."
Commissioners told him they have some some plans to address the county's space needs, and that he "might like it."
"We've got a couple of ideas that we would like to do... but certain situations have to take place first," Commissioner Tim McCormick said.
The commissioners have leased the second floor of a building in Center Wheeling near Goodwill Industries for use as a storage facility, and the space provides a moisture-free area for the storage of records. McCormick said dampness in storage areas has been among the concerns raised by county officials whose offices are required to retain some paperwork for as long as 99 years under state law.
Security also is an issue, and commissioners said they wouldn't reveal the name or exact location of the building. They did say it was being rented from someone in the private sector.
"That was part of the problem with storage," McCormick said. "Now the documents are being well taken care of, and they're under lock and key so there's no problem there."
Commissioners will continue storing boxes at the space the county has and determine how it can best be utilized, he said.
"Record retention is a big problem for most counties," County Administrator Greg Stewart said. "Each year you put 100 boxes on the pile, but you can only take 90 off. Over time, you're increasing by 10 boxes every year the boxes that have to stay for 99 years, and this building is full. We're trying to go more digitized. But it is costly."
A line item in the proposed 2015 budget of Circuit Clerk Brenda Miller requests $70,000 for use in transferring the county's legal records to digitized form.
During recent budget hearings with commissioners, nearly all of Ohio County's officials indicated they had a need for more space.
This is true even of the Ohio County Development Authority - which oversees tenant space at The Highlands development, commissioners said. But they don't anticipate moving any county offices to the property at this time.
"That's where we have to put tenants - we don't want to take any tenant space away," McCormick said. "It would probably be better served if we could bring in additional tenants there. We try to keep everything localized here for the citizens. For the public to have to go to The Highlands to do something at the clerk's or assessor's offices wouldn't be convenient for them. If they want to shop, it's very convenient. If they want to eat or go to a movie, that's as convenient as it gets. But for government, this is the place to be."