Barbour County has finalized plans to open a new law enforcement office in Belington.
According to officials, the office will benefit the entire southern part of the county while serving as a space for processing criminals, interviewing child victims of sexual assault or abuse cases, early voting and more.
"The opening to this would be a benefit, not only to the law enforcement, but to other county offices as the Sheriff expects to bring a tax deputy up here to collect taxes," said Commissioner Phil Hart.
The office building is across from Belington City Hall on Route 250. Building space will be shared with dentist A. Lamar Weese. Weese was having problems with vandalism at his current location and felt that a shared location with law enforcement would significantly reduce that.
Another half of the building remains unoccupied and unrenovated, to be designed to suit the needs of whatever occupant will use the space.
"The commission and I working together have leased this property to see if it's something that's needed in this end of the county," said Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins.
The project has been in the works for about three years, around the time Hawkins took office, but a location wasn't a quick find.
Possession of the new office location will be granted today. This is when furniture and equipment will be moved into the office spaces.
The space renovated is a line of three rooms. The main entrance into the reception area will be toward the back of the building followed by an office to house two deputies and a room for the tax deputy that may be used periodically for the public to pay taxes and renew vehicle licenses.
Hawkins said taxes will probably not be taken at the office until July. Currently there are about five employees in addition to Hawkins who are trained to collect taxes. One or two employees will be brought to the new office periodically for that purpose.
The tax office at the courthouse will remain open, creating an additional location to pay taxes for the southern portion of the county without making a trip to Philippi.
"I think it will be good for this end of the county... by having extra law enforcement on this end, having officers to back up officers," said Belington mayor Carlton Haller.
The space for the tax deputy will serve more than one function.
"This office is available to any elected official in the county, it's available to the assessor, county clerk, anybody who would need it. Prosecutor, if she needs to set up the interviews," said Hawkins.
According to the sheriff, the two deputies in the middle room would normally have an office in Philippi and the courthouse, but their day-to-day work will be at the office in Belington.
"It will still be linked to the courthouse for records management and things like that," said Hawkins.
The reception area at the back entrance will also be used for processing.
"Our goal is that any law enforcement agency in the county can use that back office to process people who were arrested," said Hawkins.
The space would be utilized by the City of Belington, Junior and the Department of Natural Resources. It also will house an intoxilyzer for processing drivers under the influence in Belington without the necessity of a drive to Philippi and Norton.
According to Hawkins, all law enforcement will eventually have access to the back office. The other two offices are county only.
"This is just a better way, we feel, to serve the citizens of Barbour County," said Hart.
Hart said assessors plan to use the new office building to help citizens fill out assessment forms during tax time. Hart also said that the new office will be available for early voting with the November election, although the county clerk will be the one to decide whether or not to utilize that.
"That's just another sample of bringing government to the people with the increased gas prices, limited parking at the courthouse and the construction going to be starting end of June for the new sidewalk replacement," said Hart.
The functionality of the office space will be further extended still.
"The other part of this, we're really happy to say, we're also going to use it as the Children's Advocacy Center," said Hawkins.
Trained interviewers will speak with child victims of sexual assault and abuse in the new offices. This process requires three rooms. One room must be available to the family of the victim as a seating area, another for the interviewer and the victim, and a room for the team that guides the interviews.
"Thanks to Delegate Poling and the Legislature, we do have some money set aside that will be used to provide us with the recording equipment," said Hawkins. Funds of $20,000 were provided through Discretionary Funds from the legislature for the initial start-up in Preston, Taylor and Barbour counties for the interview equipment and training.
Currently, these victims are taken to Randolph or Upshur county for these interviews. The new office space provides a local area to conduct these interviews. Two county affiliated employees will be sent around the end of May or beginning of June for training to conduct the interviews.
"That was a partnership between the delegates, Shaver, Williams, Moneypenny and myself to try and get some start up funding for that, recognizing the importance of having an interview with children when there is some issue where they feel save and secure and have trained interviewers doing those testimonies," said Delegate Mary Poling.
There are no plans to hire new employees for the buildings at the moment, but it may be a goal for the future of the office.
"My goal, is that if we show that this is a needed asset to the county and shows business here, I can convince the commission that it is worthy of additional employees. Until we can prove it's needed, it will just be used with current staff," said Hawkins.
Contact Melissa Toothman by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.