More comment sought on courthouse hours

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Commission will continue to accept comments on a proposal to change the county courthouse’s hours and may make a compromise to suit both sides of the issue.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said Tuesday he’s disappointed he’s not received more comments about his proposal to close the courthouse on Saturdays and extend its hours on Thursdays.

He’s invited residents to share input by calling him at (304) 737-4024 or (304) 224-6619.

Two weeks ago Andreozzi suggested eliminating the courthouse’s Saturday hours of 9 a.m. to noon, citing reports from several courthouse employees that visits were relatively few.

He said the courthouse’s hours could be extended from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays to accommodate those whose work schedules prevent them from visiting the courthouse between its regular hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

But local attorney Marc Chernenko said that’s not enough time for people who work in the Pittsburgh area to get there. He added there are many people who benefit from the weekend hours, such as family members visiting from out of town to handle estate matters.

Chernenko has encouraged members of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce to join him in opposing the changes.

County Commissioner Norma Tarr said she’s heard from business owners who said they do most of their courthouse business on Saturdays.

The commission heard Tuesday from Toni White, a clerk in the assessor’s office, who said the changes are ones the public would quickly adapt to.

Jody Pryor, who also works in the assessor’s office, said many people don’t know the courthouse is open on Saturdays. She said closing it allows courthouse staff to spend time with their families.

Andreozzi noted the measure isn’t intended to save money.

A smaller staff mans the courthouse on Saturdays and takes a few hours off on a weekday when it’s their turn to work on Saturday. He said employees’ shifts on Thursday would be staggered if the extended hours were adopted.

He noted a courthouse employee pointed out that county taxes can be paid online. He suggested the commission should work with courthouse staffers to make more services available through the Internet.

Andreozzi said the commission may be able to reach a compromise, such as opening on specific Saturdays at times when courthouse traffic is higher, such as when taxes are due.

The commission took no action on the matter Tuesday.

In other business, the board approved the application for a $15,000 Justice Assistance Grant for the executive director position held by Rhonda Stubbs in A Child’s Place Court-Appointed Special Advocate Program. The grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and issued through the state Division of Justice and Community Services. Stubbs said federal cuts last year resulted in such programs being cut out of the grant program, but she will try again. Over the years the nonprofit program has depended on various grants, private contributions and fundraisers.

“We are not a line item in any federal, state or local budget,” she said.

A Child’s Place CASA trains volunteers to represent the interests of children involved in abuse and neglect cases in Brooke and Hancock counties. Courts often order parents in such cases to undergo various types of counseling in an effort to keep families together, with the children’s safety an overriding factor, Stubbs noted.

CASA volunteers visit the families to determine if the parents are following the court’s orders and the environment is safe. They deliver written reports on their findings to a judge who must determine what’s best for the children.

Stubbs said the number of children served by A Child’s Place CASA rose from 88 in 2012 to 132 last year, “the most kids we’ve ever served in a year” since the program was begun in 2000.

She blamed the trend on a rise in heroin addiction, with the drug being a factor in at least 80 percent of the program’s cases. Stubbs added she’s seen it override the normally caring nature of some parents.

Brooke County Sheriff’s Deputy John White, a prevention resource officer at Brooke High School, told the commission, “Unfortunately it’s easy to get hooked and hard for people to get off it.”

Stubbs said CASA volunteers are undergoing training to become more familiar with drug addiction’s impact on families.

She also is presenting two programs at Eastern Gateway Community College to educate people about child abuse and neglect.

The first focuses on signs of sexual abuse and preventive measures and will be held April 17. The other covers child abuse and neglect, laws protecting children and how other adults can help and will be held April 27. For information, call (740) 264-5591.