Wood County Commission wants changes in state lease for veterans office

The Wood County Sheriff’s Department put seven new cruisers on the road Monday. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission is looking to change the terms of its lease with the state to house an office of Veterans Administration at the courthouse.

Wood County officials said they had issues with the terms of the lease, drawn up by the state, which gives the county little leeway in negoiating rent and other issues.

David Bailey, realty manager for the West Virginia Real Estate Division who called in to talk with commissioners, said the lease does seem “one-sided.”

”It is difficult to get the language changed,” Bailey said Monday of a process that would include discussions with the state Attorney General’s Office.

Commission President Blair Couch asked if the county produced a document that the Real Estate Division could sign off on.

”This is unique in my mind where we are actually signing someone else’s lease,” he said.

Bailey said he is not allowed to do that.

The office space is rented for $250 a month and has been at that rate for around 25 years. However, they are not paying anything at the current time until the lease agreement is worked out. Other agencies have paid more for less space, officials said. Commissioner Jimmy Colombo said he did not believe Bailey would sign such an agreement to rent his own property.

Bailey said he understands the county’s position. If an agreement cannot be worked out, the division would have to find space for those offices. However, they would still have to have an agreement in place with the county until that can be facilitated for them to continue to pay rent.

”The only way for Wood County to be paid is if you signed some kind of agreement,” Bailey said.

Couch said the nature of the current lease does not provide the county any recourse as to certain things that come up that might require a change.

”Everything you have as a benefit in the lease is not returned to us in the same lease,” Couch said.

As space has become a concern with record storage at the old Wood County Sheriff’s Department building at Second and Avery streets, county officials have discussed the possibility of using space within the courthouse for record storage if that building cannot be adequately fixed. County officials want to determine which records can be scanned, stored electronically and which records can be shreded and disposed of.

The old sheriff’s department building has had roof issues and a mold problem and would cost a considerable amount of money to repair.

Officials also talked about moving the office, which is on the fourth floor, to a lower floor to allow better access.

”We are doing our due diligence which has brought us to this moment,” Couch said. ”We love the Veterans Administration on the fourth floor of our courthouse, but it may not be the ideal setting in our building. Changes could happen.”

County officials talked about going to the attorney general to see if their concerns can be addressed.

”We are not asking you to move, just fix the lease,” Couch said.

In other business, Wood County Circuit Court Clerk Carole Jones appeared before the commission to discuss her applying for a $10,000 West Virginia Records Management and Preservation Grant to help with retaining records and dealing with the records in the old sheriff’s building. The grant would pay for personnel costs.

One of the issues in getting back records scanned and electronically recorded in the Wood County Circuit Clerk’s Office is time for employees to do it.

The grant application is due Nov. 1.

Couch told Jones the county is looking at options, because they don’t think the old sheriff’s building can be saved and something needs to be done with those records. ”It is getting worse and worse,” he said.

Jones said scanning efforts are occurring, but it is a slow process as her people still have their daily duties to handle in working up cases, doing court work and more.

”We started the scanning,” she said of current cases. ”The scanning is another step in addition to what we were doing before.”

As they scan, the state Supreme Court is requiring them to maintain certain physical records, Jones said.

”My concern is we are behind in our regular stuff,” she said. ”We have daily stuff that comes in that office that has to be processed. We have piles of stuff that need to be processed.”

In other business, the Wood County Sheriff’s Department showed county officials the seven new police cruisers the department has just put into service.

Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens said they have been working on this since May. ”We had to order them on state bid,” he said. ”They had to be built.”

It usually takes 8-12 weeks for the cars to arrive.

Additional work includes getting the graphics on the cars done, getting the lights and sirens installed, and getting cameras and radios put in, which are usually done by separate vendors.

The county was able to finance the cars using the county’s share of the coal severance tax, Couch said. The cars are being financed for around $250,000.

When Stephens took office in January, he said, the fleet was “old and ragged” with some cars having over 137,000 miles.

Recently, the sheriff’s department had to put a used motor in a patrol car to keep it running until the new cars arrived, Stephens said. Another vehicle had a motor rebuilt by their mechanic, he said.