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County signs new lease for Brown Building
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The county has agreed to keep the Department of Juvenile Justice in its current home for at least the next year.

Effingham County commissioners approved, in a 4-1 vote, a new lease for the state office to be housed in the Brown Building, which is across the street from the county’s main office, for one year. The lease is for one year, with four one-year renewal options, and the rent will be for $1,236.83 per month. That is the rate the county also charges the state to lease space to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Chairman Wendall Kessler said the landlords proposed a five-year lease, but the county needed a 30-day out clause. That led to the one-year lease with four one-year renewal options.

“This is a stopgap measure to buy some time,” he said.

“A year is reasonable,” said Commissioner Vera Jones, “because it gives us time to look at not just this but other organizations in a comprehensive way.”

Commissioners also asked what is being done to move the Department of Juvenile Justice into space the county already has. Commissioner Reggie Loper inquired if the old drug suppression unit office, located near the courthouse, could be put to use.

Temporary county administrator Toss Allen said there wasn’t enough time to make the necessary improvements to that building in order to move the juvenile justice office.

“It would need some upgrades to get into it,” he said. “There are some additional offices and walls that would need to be added. I don’t know that we have any space available that meets their needs on an immediate basis.”

Because of the sensitive information in the DJJ’s case files, the copier has to be kept in a separate room, county community relations director Adam Kobek said, and the agency also wants individual offices.

The county’s original lease expired in June 2007, and rental payments were $1,000 a month. The building’s owners filed a dispossessory notice and later rescinded it, with the owners asking for $3,860.49 in back rent and $95 in court costs. The back rent is equivalent to three months’ rent at the newly-approved rate.

“I think it would have been better to pay the rent and not have this issue moving forward,” said Commissioner Steve Mason, who cast the lone opposing vote.

The space being leased to the Department of Juvenile Justice is 1,328 square feet. The county entered into a lease with the DJJ in 2004 for three years, and a five-year lease with an option was signed once the original lease between the state and the county expired.

Mason said he would like to have an out clause in the lease if the county had other space in its buildings become available within the next few months, or if it was possible to house the Department of Juvenile Justice at the old Central School site.

“It’s probably smart with the amount of buildings we have to have a plan of action moving forward, and not lock into a long-term lease,” he said. “A year is not a long-term lease.”