MOUNT VERNON — Finding and adjusting operating space has been a recent concern of some county entities lately, and two such issues were tentatively settled Thursday, as Knox County Commissioners met with representatives of the parties involved for discussions.
First up was a visit to the former Columbia Gas building on Pittsburgh Avenue, where the commissioners met with Trent Ansel and John Kaiser of the Veterans Services Office, along with property owner John Weekley and computer technician Joe Strosnider from ECR Inc., who was there to advise about the computer wiring capabilities of the office.
Ansel pointed out the front step into the building, which would have to be filled in with a ramp to make the front entrance handicapped accessible, but there is sufficient room to install of ramp of sufficiently low grade. Inside the building, there is room for a receptionist’s office, waiting room and kitchen to the left. Past those rooms is an office and a formal meeting room, which could be used by the Veterans Services Commission for their meetings.
In the back of the building there is a storage room, two large public rest rooms and a partially sheltering lean-to, which would keep snow and ice off the windshields of VSO transportation equipment. To the right of the main hall is a room which could be reserved for counseling, two offices, a general meeting room which could be adapted for the use of the American Legion and other groups, as well as for group counseling sessions. Also along that corridor is a furnace room with sufficient space for a computer server.
Strosnider said that current wiring in the building was sufficient for most computer operations and that wireless service could be configured with two broadcast hubs, instead of one, to overcome the building’s solid interior walls.
Commissioners’ President Allen Stockberger said that although the county was involved with VSO, the semi-autonomous veterans agency was free to decide on its own about office space. Ansel said that he felt they had little choice but to move, due to space constrictions in their current location in the Knox County Service Building on East High Street, as well as accessibility issues. Kaiser asked if it would be possible for the commissioners to help the VSO with additional money, or, conversely, would the commissioners be satisfied with not receiving leftover money from the VSO in every budget year, which has been the case for the last several years. Stockberger said that budgets were too tight for any additional funds, but that they had no objection to the office using the full budget allocated for operations.
Ansel said that as the VSO and the commissioners have developed such a good working relationship in the last few years, he wanted to get their blessing on the move, even if it wasn’t formally required. The commissioners voted on the spot to support the relocation, which will begin taking place after final negotiations are settled on details such as mowing and snow removal.
Another proposed move, however, looks like it will not be happening. Some discussion had been made about moving the combined title office, bureau of motor vehicles and highway patrol exam station, but after budget constraints ruled out a number of alternate locations, thoughts returned to the current facility on North Sandusky Street, and how to make it more habitable for the time being. Unlike the VSO situation, the commissioners have final say over any movement of the title agency, and deemed this year’s budget too tight for any such move.
Clerk of Courts Mary Jo Hawkins was joined by Title Supervisor Kathy Hillier to present the fruits of some office brainstorming.
“Why not just expand everything backwards?” Hillier said, explaining that there was room further back in the building which might allow the back wall of the title office to be knocked out, giving them room to stretch out equipment, files and storage.
“We don’t need anything fancy,” Hillier said. “We just need a little elbow room.” The commissioners agreed that this was a good idea, and said that they would negotiate it with the facility owners.
Hawkins said that at the same time, she would like to have Brian Benick of the Knox County Health Department revisit some previous testing he did at the building site for mold, and to redo the testing if he felt it warranted.
Meanwhile, Hawkins also presented her Clerk of Courts figures for the end of the year, which showed that the number of new case filings have almost doubled in Knox County in the last nine years, while the Clerk of Courts office has been able to maintain that work load with the same number of employees. The collected courthouse clerk fees for 2008 amounted to $198,756. The computer fee surcharge generated nearly $20,000 last year, as well. Clerk fees in the title office amounted to $196,987 last year, a figure which has been steadily dropping over the years as more people take advantage of cross-county titling.