THOMASVILLE -- Thomas County government space and security needs will not go away.

The two topics were among the first items the Thomas County Commission chairman broached at a Monday morning budget hearing.

Utilities and fuel costs and general inflation are concerns in county government finances, said Chairman Josh Herring, and a dire need remains for office space and courthouse security.

By a 21-vote margin, voters in March turned down a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to fund restoration/renovation of the historic courthouse and construction of a new courthouse.

Regardless of whether county commissioners or Thomas County residents like it, a successful SPLOST referendum is needed to fund space and security needs, the chairman said.

Herring hopes 2006 will be the year when commissioners present a program that will result in a successful SPLOST.

Department heads and constitutional officers who appeared before commissioners Monday were understanding of the county's dilemma and did not make extravagant demands in 2006 budgets.

Commissioners are taking close to $900,000 from a dwindling reserve fund to balance the 2006 budget without raising taxes.

H. Arthur McLane, chief judge of the Southern Judicial Circuit, wrote commissioners in October with suggestions about upgrading courthouse security.

A U.S. marshal has inspected the courthouse for security breaches. His report is pending.

Commissioners said Monday they would like to wait until the marshal makes his report to move forward with security measures.

In the 2006 budget is $150,100 for four deputies who would be assigned to courthouse security.

In addition to training, the officers would need vehicles, Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell told commissioners. "It's going to be an expensive endeavor when y'all decide what to do," he added.

Commissioner Elaine Mays pointed out that any courthouse security equipment purchased now would have to be purchased again for a new building.

Powell reminded commissioners that various courts conduct proceedings in different locations, resulting in more chances of failed courtroom security.

Deputies staff courtrooms for Juvenile, Magistrate, Superior and State courts at several locations, including the Jail-Justice Center and courthouse.

"We need a judicial building for security. That's for certain," Powell said.

The sheriff said people involved in child custody, divorce and child support court proceedings sometimes become emotional, angry and not apprehensive about expressing their feelings.

"We live in a world today where people don't believe hell is hot," the sheriff said. " ... You've got a volatile situation. Yeah, things get pretty hot in court."



Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 220.

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