ERWIN — Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department secretary Carla Ragland said the change of scenery suits her just fine.
“I feel like a bird out of a dirty cage,” she said.
The sheriff’s department’s administrative offices have now been relocated from downtown Erwin to the Unicoi Jail Annex on Jackson Love Highway. This move includes the relocation of the department’s secretaries, and the offices of the sheriff, the chief deputy and the administrative assistant.
Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said the permanent relocation of his department’s administrative offices “absolutely had to happen” due to flooding caused by a leaky roof on the Unicoi County Jail and by inmates stopping up drains and commodes in the jail, which was located directly above the administrative offices. While Hensley said the leaky roof could be remedied, engineers have advised county officials there would be no way to prevent water caused by inmates flooding the jail from finding its way downstairs.
“I wouldn’t ask the public to even come in there, just to be honest,” Hensley said. “There’s a severe water problem down there and a flooding problem. It’s just unsanitary conditions. Out here, the public can come in without any problem.”
Hensley said the sheriff’s department’s contact information will remain the same, and residents needing to pick up accident reports, offense reports and arrest reports will now need to come to the Jail Annex.
“Everything that we had down there will be out here,” Hensley said. “This is where they’ll have to come to pick up these reports.”
The move of the offices began Sunday, and renovations to the front of the county-owned Jail Annex necessary for the relocation have been completed. Hensley said the move was completed at a minimal cost to the county, adding that items were taken from the offices’ downtown location and renovations were mostly completed through the use of inmate labor. He said the total cost was less than $10,000.
“We already had the building,” Hensley said. “It wasn’t being used, and we just knocked some holes in walls and put up some doors.”
Hensley said there will be an adjustment period, as the sheriff’s department’s offices had been conveniently located next to the Unicoi County Courthouse for years. However, he said the Jail Annex property does have advantages not offered by the downtown property, including room for expansion if needed.
“There’s a lot of good options out here that we didn’t have down there,” he said.
Hensley said he will split office time between the Jail Annex and the downtown location until his department’s investigative offices and the county’s 911 dispatch center are relocated to a storage area at the Jail Annex as part of a separate relocation project.
Hensley said the move of his administrative offices has been studied for some time, and he said he is appreciative of the Unicoi County Commission and the county’s Building and Grounds Committee for lending their approval to the move.
“They do understand my problem and they’re all in agreement,” Hensley said. “We looked at other avenues, and they’ve done an extraordinary job on their part of trying to save the county money in looking at every avenue that we could do.”