Harnett County’s probation and parole office moved to Dunn in 2018. It may be moving again.
Commissioners on Monday voted to extend its current lease for one year at 107 E. Broad St., the home to the Harnett County Office of the N.C. Department of Public Safety Community Corrections.
While agreeing to extend the lease, several commissioners expressed a desire to relocate the office out of Dunn as soon as possible.
“Where they are located presently is a real problem for the city of Dunn,” Commissioner Lew Weatherspoon said. “I won’t go into all the problems they’re currently having, but it’s a real problem for the city of Dunn, and I think we need to do everything possible to try to help them out and get parole out of downtown Dunn.”
Commissioner Mark Johnson represents the area and said the office’s presence causes disruptions to traffic and businesses, whose owners want to see the problem addressed.
“They’re complaining to me, they’re complaining to the police department, and some of it has been very unsightly,” said Johnson. “The citizens in that area are in a hurry to get probation and parole moved somewhere else.”
Weatherspoon and Johnson favored a six-month lease extension, but County Manager Paula Stewart said any potential move would take at least a year.
Stewart said the probation and parole office could be added to the next feasibility study, which is set to include several other county departments like the Board of Elections that are vying for additional space.
“I’m not sure how long it will take them to do that because we’re looking at all of the other county needs as well that are still left on the other side of the river,” Stewart said. “It’s going to be a feasibility for where everybody should go. We can ask that this be prioritized, but I don’t know if it will be done in six months.”
When probation and parole moved a few years ago, Stewart said the state needed to be involved nearly every step of the way, requiring a lot of modifications to the current facility that made for a long process.
“Wherever they go, people who deal with the court system are going to be all walks of life,” said Stewart. “We’ve worked with the city of Dunn and I didn’t know there were any current problems. I’ve worked with them for all these years and every time there was a problem, we took care of it.”
Commissioner Matt Nicol said he wanted to see the process of moving the office out of Dunn started, especially if the county is looking at a minimum one-year timeline.
“I would suggest we stop kicking the can down the road and get on that,” Nicol said. “Maybe we need to draw a big sand table and figure out where all the departments in the county are going to and actually figure that out and get a plan. I don’t want to be waiting a year and this still be an issue.
“I feel like we should do it and not make more excuses on why not to do it. Let's get it done now.”
The third floor of the court house and the second floor of social services came up as options, but Stewart said any move required funding, renovations and scheduling — and time.
“Just so you all know, government does run slow,” said Stewart. “I know you want it done yesterday, but things are not as simple. We have been working on this. I don’t want you to think we’re just ignoring it. Things just mushroom sometimes. It feels like we’re kicking the can, but we’ve been working on this ever since we did the last feasibility study.”
Chairman W. Brooks Matthews recommended scheduling a public hearing and allocating funding for the feasibility study before the county’s current fiscal year ends in June.
County Attorney Chris Appel said choosing the one-year lease option will raise the current $3,900 per month payment on the property slightly.
“I know part of the plan for the future is to have ownership of all our buildings and stop leasing, but we’re not at that point with probation and parole,” Appel said. “I don’t know when at what point we would be able to house them in a permanent county location.”
Lucknow Properties LLC offered the county a chance to renew the lease for two years at its current rate.
Eliot Duke can be reached at email@example.com or at 910-230-2038.