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County spending: courthouse, sheriff's van, storage buildingTell North Platte what you think
 
Photo by George Lauby
New windows for this part of the courthouse
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Dist. 11 Probation Director Lonnie Folchert

Commissioners okay courthouse windows, doors

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Not only will windows and doors be replaced this year at the Lincoln County courthouse, a new building is taking shape for the dive team, the county commissioners said Monday.

The Lincoln County commissioners approved a bid to install new energy-saving doors and windows at the oldest part of the court house Monday, appropriating $358,000 for the work.

All-City Glass, headquartered in Kearney with an office in North Platte, submitted the lowest bid, out-bidding Dowhower construction of North Platte.

All-City's base bid for the biggest part of the job – windows in the old four-story courthouse – was $158,000 less than Dowhower's bid.

Also, windows in the probation office across Fifth St. will be replaced. And, the job includes replacing windows in the attic of the old courthouse.

Several improvements to the courthouse are being phased in over several years. Phase one was last summer – a new $170,000 electrical “service entrance” that will accommodate electrical upgrades, including more outlets, in the future.

Major improvements were recommended in 2011, after a consultant studied the entire building and found space heaters were used in some offices, while windows were open in other offices, due to uneven heating in the winter.

Next year, the third phase of improvements could include new heating and air conditioning. And the year after that, the commissioners have said they hope to improve handicapped access.

The total improvements are expected to cost three-quarters to $1 million.


New building

On Monday, the commissioners also agreed to take bids for a new 32-feet x 30-feet storage barn for the North Platte dive team. The building will be constructed on the grounds of the county roads department.

Also, the commissioners will take bids for a new 7-passenger van for the sheriff’s office to transport prisoners.

Sheriff Jerome Kramer said more prisoners are being transported then ever, and more transportation will be needed under a law the Legislature recently adopted that allow troubled teens to be put under intensive probation instead of incarceration. (Story below.)

Bids for the building and the van will be opened in two weeks.


Probation

In related business, District 11 Chief Probation Office Lonnie Folchert said changes to the state’s juvenile justice program will steadily increase demands on his office, the District 11 Probation Office.

Folchert said more computers and office space will be needed next year, which could add another 3 percent to his budget expenses.

In coming months, more staff will be needed. However, Lincoln County taxpayers will not pay all the bills. The state transferred about $40 million to probation offices across the state to help pay the costs of staff. Also, other counties chip in to pay office costs.

The probation office serves a 17-county region of west-central Nebraska.


Dramatic reform of juvenile justice takes shape

Joseph Moore, Nebraska News Service, (updated from a story published May 21 in the North Platte Bulletin)

Juvenile criminals will be rehabilitated at home, with help from probation officers, under a bill adopted in the state Legislature.

Lawmakers approved LB 561 to overhaul Nebraska’s juvenile justice system.

The bill transfers responsibility for the state’s roughly 3,000 juvenile offenders from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Office of Probation Administration.

The change is intended to keep juvenile offenders in the home and out of county or state-run detention centers, with the exception of serious cases.

State-run Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Kearney, Geneva and Hastings would be reserved only for those more serious offenders.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha.

Ashford said families could help to rehabilitate a child if given the proper support. The bill aims to provide that support through funds for community-based juvenile services programs.

Ashford said these “intensive therapy” programs would be available to families up to four months after a youth returns from a rehabilitation center.

The amount of funds distributed to each county would depend on a formula that considers several factors, including the number of juvenile offenders in that area.

The bill also shifts about $40 million from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Office of Probation Administration for 100 additional probation officers to be dispersed throughout the state.

Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, who supports the bill, expressed concern that the shift would essentially turn probation officers into social workers responsible for overseeing the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

“A probation officer’s role is not the same as a social worker’s,” he said. He said that because probation officers work for the court, they have less authority to challenge the decisions of juvenile court judges.

Ashford responded by saying that probation officers come from diverse backgrounds -- criminal justice, social work, psychology -- and that additional training would be provided to prepare them for the transition.

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln asked about the expected number of caseloads the probation officers would have. She warned that if the caseloads were too great, officers would have difficulty providing needed support to parents who would retain custody of their children under the bill.

Ashford responded that he did not know exactly how large the caseloads would be, but efforts would be made to keep them as light as possible.

“We’re not going to save every kid, but we’re going to save a lot more kids,” Ashford said in his closing remarks on the bill.


What it says

The bill says, in part, “A juvenile shall not be detained in secure detention or placed at a youth rehabilitation and treatment center unless detention or placement of such juvenile is a matter of immediate and urgent necessity for the protection of such juvenile or the person or property of another or if it appears that such juvenile is likely to flee the jurisdiction of the court.”


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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 6/10/2013
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