The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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June 7, 2014

Courthouse office moves in the works

EBENSBURG — To say the employees in the Cambria County clerk of courts office work in cramped quarters is an understatement, but a move is afoot to change that.

Ten employees work for Clerk of Courts Susan Kuhar. Their desks and a multitude of criminal, summary and miscellaneous files are jammed into an area of about 500 square feet, a situation President Judge Timothy Creany said is unacceptable and has vowed to change.

“The clerk of courts office is just jam- packed, all the people and the files ... ” Creany said late last week.

The workload in the office has consistently increased over the past several years, and while the space on the first floor next to the commissioners’ office was adequate decades ago, something has to be done, Kuhar said.

“I’ve maxed out every idea” to make the office operable, she said, including three desks designed smaller than normal to fit along the southern wall of the office.

Kuhar has worked in the office for 38 years and was elected to the clerk of courts post in 2000.

During that time, she has kept a running list of cases beginning in 1985, when there were 905 filings of all types. The 2013 figure for all criminal, civil and miscellaneous cases topped out at 3,016, Kuhar said of the work being done in space that has not grown.

Older files from her office are stored at the old Cambria County Jail, located about a block up the street.

Securing those files means regularly sending one of her employees to the jail, an inconvenience that could be minimized if space allowed for more courthouse storage, she said.

Kuhar’s office is cramped, and at least one other has plenty of room. But Creany said there are issues.

The basement office of county Treasurer Lisa Kozorosky is about 1,500 square feet and houses four employees plus Kozorosky, who has held the elected post since 2012.

“I feel whatever is in the best interest of the county,” she said. “I have the most space and the least people and I don’t have a problem making a switch.”

The treasurer’s office would fit well into the more high-profile first floor because its primary role is to deal with the public issuing dog, hunting and fishing licenses, paying jurors, and receiving all of the county money, she said.

Moving the clerk of courts to the basement would provide more space for defendants paying costs and fines or dealing with bail issues, Kuhar said. In addition, her office would have the added security of probation officers who regularly meet with defendants in an adjacent jury room.

The biggest stumbling block in the plan is a safe needed by the treasurer because of the amount of money the office processes.

While there is a safe in Kuhar’s office, it doesn’t have a door, Creany said.

As officials looked at the cost of adding a door to Kuhar’s safe, Creany said, another idea surfaced.

The offices of county Controller Edward Cernic Jr. are on two levels. One is across the hall from Kuhar’s and a second is in the basement directly beneath the commissioners.

Cernic said he would not object to having his basement operation brought to the first floor and Kuhar’s office moved into his basement space.

“I’m concerned about the cost, but I want what is best for the county,” he said.

The move would be an added convenience for his employees who regularly use the stairs to get from one office to the other.

But what sense does it make to have two offices – the controller’s – which are what Kozorosky termed as behind the scenes with little contact by the public, on the easily accessible first floor?

“We probably have the most visited office in the courthouse,” she said.

Get a door for Kuhar’s safe and remove the security bars at the counter and Kozorosky said she is ready for the move.

“The only requirement I have is to take the cage down,” she said of the security in the clerk’s office. “I want an open counter.”

The office switch needs a little more investigation, Creany said, but he is determined to have it completed by the time he retires at the end of 2015 when he turns 70.

“We need to minimize the inconvenience. I think we’ll have a decision in the next month or so,” he said.

Money to pay for the moves will come from a special fund controlled by Creany from costs and fines, and not from the county general fund, he said.

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