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Sheriff's department operating out of temporary trailers for years

NEWBERRY COUNTY, SC (WIS) -

In 2006, the most important building in Newberry County had mold growing in it.  And that was the year Sheriff Lee Foster realized he had a problem.

"We noticed black mold growing on the walls, floor boards the carpets," said Foster.

The three-year-old Newberry County Sheriff's Office was contaminated.

"We just want it fixed and we want our employees safe," he said.

Well that was not possible. The building was deemed unsafe.

More than a half decade later, Sheriff Foster is frustrated.

"It's kind of an act of frustration and kind of an act of enough is enough," he said.

These days emergency calls are taken in a cinder block room in a building protected by thin garage doors. The same doors that stand feet away from a $2 million machine.

"It's the most expensive stuff," said Foster. "It's the brains of dispatch."

But that is not the worst of it.

"You can tell it's getting worn and a little bit unkempt," he said. 

The Sheriff works out of a used trailer. Investigators are in a different one.

"You look at it, the carpet in here, it's just abysmal," said Foster. 

But it's not just about the people who work inside. He says it's about the people they're working to protect.

The Sheriff said a tornado warning a couple of weeks back made it real.

"We're telling people to get out of mobile homes, yet we're working inside them," he said.

Sheriff Foster said the people of Newberry County could be in danger because of his current facility.

Contributing to the delays, first the county had to settle a complicated lawsuit with the builder of the original office.  Then study after study was ordered to see what kind of new facility would work.

And then a penny sales tax had to be passed.

"We were supposed to be in here 14 months and it's 6 years and 2 months later," said Foster. "We're still here and every time it looked like we were going to do something, the rug got pulled from under us."  

Last week, after years of debate, county council passed a more than $2 million budget to renovate the technical college next door to the mobile units that serve as the sheriff's office.

But even that took a while. One council member wanted to make the project line item so council would need to vote on even the small expenses.

The Sheriff said that would slow down the building again, the council member said it's just good business on such a costly project.

"To make sure we're getting our money's worth and doing the right thing for the taxpayers of this county," said council member Les Hipp.  

And even though six years is a long time, the sheriff says there is hope on the other side of the fence.

"I can just be prayerfully optimistic it will happen because over the last 6 years, I've seen it stopped or delayed time after time," said Sheriff Foster. 

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