June 06, 2012For the third Crawford County Board of Commissioners' meeting in a row, there was plenty of discussion Thursday morning about the board's 2-1 decision to allow the Court Appointed Special Advocates program to have an office in what primarily will be a county archives building, but, in the end, nothing changed.
Despite protests from members of the Crawford County Historical and Genealogical Society, Circuit Court Judge Lynn Lopp implored the commissioners, meeting at the judicial complex in English, not to back down from their decision to allow CASA, which represents the interests in court of those younger than 18 who have been abused or neglected, to utilize a 16-foot-by-19-foot section on the northwest part of the former Dollar General store building in English.
The court, Lopp said, is mandated to provide representation to those children, and, if the county didn't have a CASA program, it would have to hire attorneys to serve as guardians ad litem at a rate of $75 per hour. The program, which has just two part-time employees, relying mainly on volunteers, provided more than 2,000 volunteer hours last year, saving the county $150,000, he said.
Lopp said that CASA, which has had a rent-free office in the Patoka Family Health Care Center building, owned by Hoosier Uplands, in English for the past two years, doesn't have money in its budget to pay rent of up to $500 that it learned it will be charged beginning in July. With the county's General Fund strapped, he said he believed locating in a county building would be wiser than asking for funding for rent.
"That being said … it's a temporary move for us," Lopp said, explaining his hope is eventually to find a more permanent location. "But right now we need something today, and we can't keep punting it down the road."
District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius, who voted against allowing CASA to move into the building and a subsequent motion to approve $5,000 for materials to erect a partition, said he recently talked with Hoosier Uplands CEO David Miller, who said CASA could rent its current space for $75 per month. Crecelius added Miller said that amount could be negotiated to $50.
Betty Parke, the CASA program's director, said she has not spoken to Miller, but said another Hoosier Uplands official said the $75 monthly rent would only be guaranteed through December, at which time a new contract would have to be negotiated.
The CASA program doesn't even have money in its budget for that amount of rent, Lopp said, asking from where it would come.
"That's not the question," Crecelius said, explaining he wanted to set the record straight.
Historical Society members, who have overseen the county's old records at the former courthouse for most of the past decade, say that the building was purchased primarily as a place to store and showcase old county records.
They say they do not have a problem with a couple of courthouse offices using the facility building for overflow storage but note that members of the public who signed the petition that was circulated requesting the county to purchase the building did so with the understanding that it would be used mainly by the Historical Society.
"I never saw where the taxpayers were informed this building was going to be given to a specific group," Lopp said, adding he believes a "happy median" can be found.
James Schultz, president of the board, said the area in question — 304 square feet — is just a small portion of the building.
Crecelius, who repeatedly has said he believes CASA is a good program, noting that his wife formerly served as a volunteer, proposed a solution.
"We can settle it right now. I'm willing to give this office space up right here," he said, referring to the Commissioners' Room adjacent to the Auditor's Office. "We can meet in the courtroom."
To do so, however, an employee would have to be relocated and the office would need to be secured, since confidential records are kept at the CASA office.
Roberta Toby, the county historian as well as vice president of the Historical Society and archives director, said the space in the archives building where the CASA office would be located had been earmarked for a veterans display.
Lopp, however, called that a "red herring," pointing to Eddie Wetzel, a veteran in attendance, who earlier in the meeting said he didn't believe CASA was asking for too much space considering it is "for neglected and abused children."
Lopp also reminded the commissioners and the Historical Society members that the court's probation fees were used to purchase the old Hanger Equipment Co. building in English to be used as a new probation department, but, when the county highway garage and Hoosier Hills PACT needed space, the court agreed to give what was needed.
"Sometimes you've got to give something when the county needs something higher," he said.
Toby asked if the CASA office could at least remain in the Hoosier Uplands building, paying the $50 or $75 monthly rent, until the end of the year, with the hope of finding a different location.
"That's kind of kicking the can down the road," Lopp said, saying he wants CASA and the Historical Society to have a good relationship.
"I feel myself that, if CASA goes in there, they never will find another spot," Toby said.
Crecelius reiterated a suggestion he made at an earlier meeting to consider locating the CASA office where the Emergency Management Agency is now, in the Extension Service and Health Department building in English, as the commissioners have considered moving EMA to the Crawford County 4-H Community Park.
Schultz said the EMA's current office is shared space and, therefore, isn't secure, but Crecelius, who said it measures 12-by-13 feet, said it could be made secured.
Lopp said the court has the power to mandate CASA be provided space at the archives building, but he noted that he has never issued such a mandate in his 22 years on the bench.
"Nobody wins when we do that," he said.
Schultz said that the commissioners previously approved the space for CASA as well as money for materials to erect a partition, which he noted is from Orange County gaming revenue and not the financially-strapped General Fund, and he didn't see reason to reverse those decisions.
"It's my thoughts, probably, that this is the best solution for the time being," he said.
District 2 Commissioner Randy Gilmore said he worked with the Historical Society for years to find it a location, and he was disappointed by the situation.
"It shouldn't come down to this," he said, but added that CASA has to have office space.
"I stay with what we've made the other day," he said.
Crecelius, reiterating Toby, said, "You know and I know that once we get those offices in there they will be there forever."