A way to share space

As Belmont County officials work toward relocating in a new county-owned space, they must ensure not only that the new facility saves taxpayers money but also that it meets the needs of the public.

Members of the Belmont County Board of Elections discussed the matter Monday, revealing some of the plans it is making with architects from McKinley & Associates to renovate the new space at the former headquarters of The Health Plan along U.S. 40 just east of St. Clairsville. County commissioners voted a few months ago to spend $3.3 million to purchase the two buildings at the site after The Health Plan relocated its offices to downtown Wheeling. Plans call for county courts and some other county departments to be consolidated there.

Commissioners expect this to save tax dollars in the long run. Two of the offices that are slated to be moved are the title office and the board of elections office. The title office currently pays about $40,000 a year in rent, while the elections board rents its space at Plaza West for more than $70,000 annually. That means moving both to a county-owned site could save taxpayers more than $110,000 a year.

That is substantial, as long as the renovations don’t end up costing so much that the savings won’t be realized for several years.

Board of elections members seem generally satisfied with the consolidation plan, but they have one major concern: While the facility will provide adequate space for offices and equipment, current plans call for the board to share a lobby with the title office. Board members say that simply will not work, since voters cast ballots in its lobby during each election season. They say the steady stream of title office traffic would interfere with voters’ ability to cast those ballots. That is something that county leaders should not allow.

Surely, though, with two new buildings at their disposal and knowledgeable board and staff members to guide the work, a reasonable compromise can be reached. County commissioners and their architects should heed elections board members’ advice and strive to make the new space work well for everyone involved, including title office customers and voters who choose to cast ballots at the elections board headquarters.