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County says it's in a crunch

Two of three social workers who share an office at Stark County Social Services finish their work on Wednesday. Stark County is looking at ways to address space issues. Press Photo by Ashley Martin

Stark County employees working in cramped offices may get relief as leaders begin talking about possible space issues.

"We need to start someplace," said Ken Zander, Stark County commissioner. "We need to be proactive rather than getting into situations down the road -- maybe it's a year, two years, or five years -- where we get ourselves in a critical situation and we don't have a plan in place."

He said the county has known for years its offices were running out of room.

"They're making due with what they've got currently, obviously, but it's something that comes up practically at every meeting that I go to involving these agencies," Zander said.

Stark County employs 117 people and there were 117 county employees in 2004, said Kay Haag, Stark County deputy auditor. In 2000, the county employed 120, but Haag said 10 of those positions have converted to state positions. So in total, the county has added seven employees since 2000.

Haag said the numbers may not have changed much, but positions have been rearranged. Some agencies, such as Social Services, have added positions, while others have cut positions.

County commissioners have asked Larry Bernhardt, Stark County Social Services director, to coordinate with other county agencies to assess space issues.

Bernhardt said the Social Services building does not provide adequate space for its employees.

"Right now I've got one office that I have three social workers sharing," Bernhardt said.

Client privacy is an issue with three people sharing an office, Bernhardt said.

Social Services has been in the same building for about 20 years and a steady addition of staff has left it crowded, he said.

"Over time as programs grow and expand, we've just outgrown our building," Bernhardt said. "Just having space in the building to have a staff meeting has become difficult."

The county is looking at renovating existing buildings or putting all entities under one roof. Constructing a new facility is also being considered, Zander said.

Jerry Mayer from Sunrise Youth Bureau said things get crowded around the office, as well.

"We could use more space, not only for office staff, but we do house children here and we could always use the extra room," Mayer said.

Sunrise Youth Bureau houses children who have difficulty with the law, home life or who need temporary housing, Mayer said.

"The most (children) we've ever had here was about seven at one time," Mayer said. "Our average number is between one and three at a time."

Mayer said he would be in favor of moving into another building, as long as it was child-friendly and offered more room.

The agency has two offices, a waiting area, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a shower. Mayer said he wishes they had three or four bedrooms, two separate bathrooms for boys and girls, a classroom and three offices.

Leslie Ross, veteran service officer for Stark and Dunn counties, said the Veteran Service Office space is sufficient, but it is running out of storage room.

"Our requirement is to keep these case files for 100 years," Ross said.

She added it would be difficult for them to expand.

"If we added an assistant VSO or something like that it would be an issue," Ross said. "We'd really have to take a real look at our physical space and decide how we can address privacy issues when talking to clients and things like that."

Zander said all county agencies will be part of the space discussion.

"This will be a work in progress," Zander said. "It will probably take a year's worth of time to really formulate and come up with a plan."