Chip Belote

Lt. Chip Belote with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office brought his concerns with the new security system at the Hamilton County Courthouse to the board.

JASPER — Even after ongoing renovations to the Hamilton County Courthouse, there are still concerns with courthouse security.

At the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners’ Dec. 17 meeting, Lt. Chip Belote with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office brought his concerns with the new security system to the board.

Belote said he was concerned with where the security devices, including the metal detector and X-ray machine, were set up, adding that their location will lead to confusion and too many entrances and exits to the courthouse. Belote said there will still be three possible entrances as many residents are accustomed to using the handicap ramp, and that will weaken the courthouse security.

Rather, Belote suggested moving the security system to the front of the courthouse, near the Tax Collector’s Office, but that suggestion was met with frustration from some of the commissioners.

“This has been on the agenda for two years,” District 2 Commissioner Josh Smith said, adding that in that time nobody from the HCSO had voiced concern over where the machines were placed.

District 5 Commissioner William Mitchell added: “According to Florida Statutes, who is charge of the courthouse?”

That question led to additional tension with the responsibilities of the Clerk of Court, the daily tasks of the court as well as the security measures that the Sheriff’s Office oversees.

Following further discussion, the board decided to keep the security system in its current location and revisit the discussion at a later date.

Belote ensured the board that this concern was new to everyone and not something that could have been foreseen. He said the opinions from those with more experience in “courthouse security” that it would be advantageous for the security system to move to the front of the courthouse in order to ensure a secure entrance/exit, including handicap entrance, as well as provide shelter from the weather.

Later in the meeting, Smith proposed that the commissioners move their board room to the Courthouse Annex and give the current board room to the courthouse as a possibility to make the current security location work better.

Also in the meeting, the board unanimously approved a pair of special permits in regards to solar facilities.

The first request was from Duke Energy Florida as an agent for Everal Allen, which would allow for the construction of a new “electrical sub-station” in an agricultural and environmentally sensitive area.

The second was a request from Duke Energy FloridaLLC as an agent for Partridge Pea Farms LLC, for a special permit to construct a new solar power generating facility in an agriculture zoning district.

Kara M. Compo is a reporter for the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press. Her beats include general assignment, government, politics, law enforcement and first responders. ​

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