HELENA – Lewis and Clark County leaders are now planning to move the county coroner’s division out of its current offices and into the new Law and Justice Center by May.
“We feel like the time is right now to make this shift,” said Roger Baltz, the county’s chief administrative officer.
County commissioners voted Thursday to terminate a lease on the office space at 111 N. Rodney St. in Helena. They provided a 120-day notice to the building’s owner, D&V, LLC, as required by the lease. That means the coroner’s division will have to leave the office on or before May 2.
On Jan. 1, the coroner’s division was officially consolidated into the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office and the Helena Police Department will begin moving into the Law and Justice Center on Fuller Avenue once a certificate of occupancy is issued. Baltz said that is expected to happen as soon as this month.
The two agencies must move out of their current offices in the Law Enforcement Center before that building can be remodeled into an expanded jail.
Baltz said the intention has always been to eventually move the coroner into the Law and Justice Center along with the rest of LCSO. But leaders prioritized moving the offices that would allow the jail renovation to go forward.
Baltz said leaders eventually determined there was enough money available in the current year’s budget to make small renovations needed to bring the coroner’s division into the Law and Justice Center.
“Shifting the administrative functions of the coroner’s office to that building – for efficiency, for oversight, for supervision – as soon as we can just makes good sense,” he said.
The required renovations will include improvements to door hardware, new wiring and computer connections, and moving some existing equipment. The county is currently seeking cost estimates for the work.
Baltz said some of the money will likely come from the $21,000 the county is currently paying annually for rent on the coroner’s office. Other funding could be shifted from other sources, including a human resources project.
Baltz also said the county sees efficiencies in moving more offices into the Law and Justice Center.
“We want to use that building as efficiently as possible; we want to use the space that we have available there for important governmental functions,” he said. “The more square footage we have occupied and use there, it helps us pay for what we call ‘O and M,’ operation and maintenance costs that are associated with that building.”
The county is also looking at eventually moving the Department of Criminal Justice Services – which manages programs like pretrial services – into the LJC. Baltz said they are currently considering using 42 parking spaces behind the building for paid parking, with the fees going toward maintenance costs.
The work needed to bring in the coroner’s division won’t begin until the rest of LCSO and HPD move into the Law and Justice Center.
“It’s important to us that we not do anything to delay the certificate of occupancy,” said Baltz. “Our first priority is to get our law enforcement agencies shifted.”