ELYRIA — It will cost $396,356 to provide security upgrades that the county’s General Division judges want to implement for the offices now being used by the Lorain County Adult Probation Department, county Sheriff Phil Stammitti wrote in a letter to the county commissioners Wednesday.
Stammitti wrote that to properly staff the entrances to the old Lorain County Courthouse and the old Columbia Gas building, he will need to hire four full-time deputies and three part-time deputies. He will also need to purchase metal detectors to equip those deputies.
After all of the equipment purchases, the annual cost would drop by roughly $8,000.
Administrative Judge James Burge sent Stammitti a letter on July 31 directing him to implement the security upgrades by Aug. 11, but Stammitti said earlier this week that he had neither the staffing nor the budget to fulfill that directive.
The demand for screening at the entrances to the two buildings came after the Ohio Supreme Court conducted a security assessment of the Probation Department offices. The report is not available for public inspection, although the judges did allow Stammitti and his senior deputies to review the document.
Commissioner Lori Kokoski said she thinks the best thing to do at this point would be to combine the Probation Department offices in one location at the old courthouse.
Stammitti wrote that if he had to provide security at only one location, it would cut the cost to $198,178 because he would have to purchase fewer security devices and hire only two full-time deputies and 1½ part-time deputies.
He also wrote that if the Probation Department is moved into the unfinished fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center, something the judges have pushed for, he wouldn’t have to buy new equipment. But he would have to hire two more full-time deputies and 1½ part-time deputies at a cost of $193,858 per year.
Stammitti said Wednesday that he has eight full-time deputies assigned to Justice Center security right now in addition to several part-time deputies who also work there at times. But if the Probation Department is moved into the Justice Center, he said deputies will be dealing with “a lot more traffic” on a daily basis.
Kokoski said she favors the old courthouse for now because it’s less expensive than staffing two buildings.
“Regardless, we’re going to have to pay for additional security,” she said.
County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski, who serves on the Courthouse Security Committee, said he doesn’t understand why the commissioners don’t want allow the Probation Department to move to the Justice Center. He said the judges have offered to pick up all but $900,000 of the estimated $2.4 million to $2.8 million price tag for the move.
He said it makes no sense to move more people to the old courthouse given the environmental issues the judges contend are in the building, including mold, asbestos and lead paint. County Administrator Jim Cordes has said the judges are making the problems seem worse than they actually are.
Betleski said all combining all of the Probation Department at the old courthouse would accomplish would be putting more employees in “great danger.”
He accused the commissioners and Cordes of “incompetence in operating a clean, efficient work space” for Probation Department employees. Even when county maintenance workers have made repairs there it’s often been done in an unsafe manner, the judge said, an allegation Cordes has previously denied.
Burge said Wednesday that he believes Stammitti’s cost estimates are accurate. He also said that even though the county’s probation officers are armed with pistols, the best way to provide security would be to check visitors entering the building and have probation officers secure their weapons while in their offices.
“It’s too easy to get a gun away from one of them,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Williams, who has backed the judges’ desire to relocate to the Justice Center, said the county can’t afford security at two more buildings. He said another option would be to move the Probation Department to a building on Broad Street in downtown Elyria, a move the judges and Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda have opposed.
Commissioner Ted Kalo said he remains convinced that the old courthouse is the best location for the Probation Department and he believes combining the offices is the best solution. He has previously argued the fifth floor should remain vacant to provide for additional courtrooms if the county ends up with more judges in the future.
The commissioners also said they aren’t sure where they will come up with money from elsewhere in county government to cover the costs of the security upgrades.
Kalo also said he’s not sure how long it will take to hire, train and equip the new deputies Stammitti needs.
“They have to give us a reasonable amount of time to accomplish the mandates of the Courthouse Security Committee,” he said.
Betleski said there’s no requirement under the law that requires the Courthouse Security Committee to approve the security upgrades.