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Sheriff should have new HQ, precinct by 2012

Private firm moving into old building, so county law officers will move out

POSTED: March 28, 2009 10:49 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Hall County Sheriff's Col. Jeff Strickland explains this room at the Hall County Law Enforcement Center used to be the uniformed patrol division locker room, but because of space issues the room is now used as a supply closet.

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Hall County Sheriff’s officials will get a new $10 million headquarters paid for with local sales tax money in the next few years, but it’s the addition of a much smaller south end precinct that will go further toward Sheriff Steve Cronic’s goal of decentralizing his department’s operations.

A few years ago, the plan to alleviate the space crunch at the 25-year-old Hall County Law Enforcement Center on Main Street didn’t necessarily involve building a new headquarters, Cronic said. Projected new precincts in Hall County’s south end, north end and possibly the Ga. 365 corridor would grow the sheriff’s offices out.

But the plan changed after Hall County commissioners decided to lease the old county jail adjacent to the law enforcement center to a private prison company for $2 million a year.

Hall County’s contract with Corrections Corporation of America calls for the sheriff’s office to vacate the law enforcement center within five years of CCA moving in. And so planners put $10 million for a sheriff’s headquarters relocation into the SPLOST VI referendum that was approved by voters earlier this month.

Cronic acknowledged that while employees have had to adapt to their old building as the department grew, they weren’t in the same tight quarters as the Gainesville Police Department.

“We’re tight here, and we need space, but that’s not the operational reason this (relocation) is being done,” Cronic said. “We had planned on dealing with that through precincts.

“Our reason for relocating is based on long-range business plans that the county administration made. It’s an opportunity for the commission to generate some much-needed revenue from this site, and also for the county to position itself for the future of the sheriff’s office and our services.”

For the sheriff’s office to vacate its current site on schedule, Cronic looks for construction to start in about two to three years. The sheriff hopes the new headquarters, projected to be 45,000 square feet, will be built on property next to the new $54 million jail on Barber Road, off Candler Road south of the Gainesville city limits.

“My preference is for it be where the jail is, so we could have services on a central campus for ease of use not only for us, but for the citizens who have business with the sheriff’s office,” Cronic said.

County officials recently told Cronic that a south end sheriff’s precinct could be funded through impact fees levied on new construction. A 5,000-square-foot precinct, with construction estimates of $145 per square feet, would cost about $750,000.

The precinct can’t be built with SPLOST money because it wasn’t specifically included in the March voter referendum.

The exact location of the south precinct is unknown pending property acquisition, but Cronic hopes to see it built the same time as the new headquarters.

“From a practical standpoint of delivering these services, they need to be where the highest concentration of people are,” Cronic said of the precincts.

A north end precinct should follow within three years, Cronic said, with a long-range plan for an additional Ga. 365 precinct, depending on residential demand in that area of the county.

Precincts would include nearly every service that headquarters provide, from a records division that can supply accident and incident reports to investigators and traffic enforcement officers.

“It will be a full-service, working precinct,” Cronic said. “It’s not practical in a county our size to expect citizens to come to a central location to get access to services like records, report follow-ups and investigative follow-ups. I think it’s just a natural progression of how Hall County has grown. We need to be able to provide services for our citizens in a way that is easiest for them.”

Logistically, spreading out the areas where patrol deputies take roll call and are given assignments will make a difference in how quickly they can get to their patrol districts and perform their jobs, Cronic said.

The sheriff’s office is not near as far along as the Gainesville Police Department is with its new facility, but a detailed needs assessment has been conducted by consultants from the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association technical services division. The new headquarters will be built with room to grow as Hall County’s population grows, the sheriff said.

“Doing these things will take care of our needs and will give the county the opportunity to make provisions for the future,” he said.



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