York-Poquoson Social Services Building Lacks Space for New Hires, Program Development

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Full filing cabinets line a large room in the York-Poquoson Department of Social Services. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)
Full filing cabinets line a large room in the York-Poquoson Department of Social Services. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)

Each year since 2007, the York-Poquoson Department of Social Services has asked the county for a new building.

Nearly every square foot of the department is cluttered with cubicles, filing cabinets, stacks of paperwork and donated supplies for clients.

“There isn’t the space,” Director Kimberly Irvine said. “There isn’t the office space, there isn’t the bathroom facilities, there isn’t the meeting space.”

York County has a long-range, indefinite plan to build a new space for the department that serves residents of York County and the City of Poquoson who have financial, social, educational, health or emotional needs.

That plan’s timeline, which the county’s Board of Supervisors can alter, calls for design work on a new building to begin no earlier than fiscal year 2021 — 14 years after Irvine’s first request for a new building — and construction would not be completed that year.

The department currently operates out of 11,900 square feet on the second floor of York County’s public safety office above the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office and the department of emergency management.

Irvine and her staff originally asked for the funding of the new building to begin during this upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, but Debbie Morris, the county’s chief of fiscal accounting services, said Tuesday that funding would not be possible until 2021.

The department’s 56 full-time employees are crammed together in makeshift cubicles and work stations, while part-time employees, interns, grant writers and volunteers often do not have their own workspace. A large room houses 36 filing cabinets that are stacked to the ceiling and crammed with paper files that must be kept for three years before the social services staff can purge them.

Patti Alderman, the department’s administrative services manager, said currently, staff purges whatever files they can once a year, but with the growing case load and decreasing available space, the removal of files may need to be performed monthly, which would take more staff time.

The break room has shrunk in the last few years to a few small round tables and chairs for the office’s 56 staff members. Likewise, the two staff meeting rooms, which are used on a daily basis, do not comfortably fit all the staff members during office-wide meetings.

In addition, there are three bathroom stalls for the 53 women in the office.

The lack of space has prevented the department from taking on new community projects or grant opportunities such as adding a budget counselor who could help citizens manage their finances.

One computer used for eligibility screenings sits in the open lobby.

“There’s no way to close this off,” Alderman said. “It’s just here. Hardly anybody uses it because it’s so not private.”

A new building would ideally include about five closed office rooms that contain computers used for eligibility screenings and for private client interviews, Alderman said.

The department's break room does not hold all 56 employees. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)
The department’s break room does not hold all 56 employees. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)

Alderman said the York-Poquoson Department of Social Services has submitted a request for a new building every year since 2007.

Though the county has included a new 20,250-square-foot building in its proposed fiscal year 2016 Capital Improvements Plan — a 10-year outline for infrastructure projects — the funding is allocated for 2021.

“They are aware that it’s in the budget, but there are other issues that they are concerned about, too,” Irvine said of the York County Board of Supervisors, who have the final say on the project.

At a Board of Supervisors work session Tuesday, Interim County Administrator Mark Carter said there was a “critical need” for a new social services building.

“They are bursting at the seams right now,” Carter told the supervisors.

When the supervisors adopt the 2016 budget next month, the $6.8 million earmarked for the building five years from now is not guaranteed. The adoption commits the county only to the projects within the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 through June 30, 2016.

The supervisors are slated to adopt the fiscal year 2016 budget May 5.