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United Way of Lancaster County


Election security upgrades approved, including a fence around County Government Center (update)

The Lancaster County Government Center. the Prince Street Garage is behind it at left; Binns Park is in the foreground. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Update, March 27: On Wednesday, the county commissioners unanimously approved the $226,310 package of election security upgrades as discussed at their work session Tuesday.

Previously reported:

The Lancaster County commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on a package of security infrastructure enhancements that include a fence around the County Government Center at 150 N. Queen St.

The upgrades would be made in the interest of election security and are expected to be completed in time for the April 23 primary, Elections Chief Clerk Christa Miller and General Services Director Bob Devonshire told the commissioners at their Tuesday work session.

The fence is to run around the entire perimeter of the building, Devonshire said, beginning at the southeast corner at the entrance of Prince Street Garage at the southwest corner of Binns Park and ending at the building’s westmost corner at Marion Street, behind the Post Office building.

There will be multiple gates, county spokesman Michael Fitzpatrick said, including emergency exits and a gate with a card reader for employee entry.

The fence will be installed by Integrous Fences & Decks of Gap at a cost of $107,569, according to materials included with Wednesday’s meeting agenda.

Other components of the security upgrade include renovations to the Elections Office and its warehouse as well as an IT firewall, security cameras and a door access system.

The total cost is $226,310, which will be paid with a mix of capital improvement plan funding and money from the county’s Election Integrity Grant, which is provided by the state.

The proposed upgrades had been discussed before, Miller said, and it was decided at the beginning of this year to make a “concerted effort” to put them in place promptly.

“I think it’s needed,” she said.

Ongoing security issues

The idea of building a security fence around the County Government Center was floated last year in response to concerns about safety and hygiene. Binns Park, which is city-owned, and the surrounding areas under the eaves of the county-owned Government Center are gathering places for homeless individuals and others who mix in with them to sleep there, store their belongings and socialize.

There have been regular complaints of verbal altercations, threats to county staff, drug-taking, public urination and defecation and other unacceptable behavior. Last fall, the Lancaster City Alliance began contracting with Schaad Detective agency to provide overnight security on the block.

The county has had to deal with break-in attempts and incidents of vandalism, Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said. The general security issue and election security specifically both need to be addressed, he said Tuesday.

Shelter downsizing

Construction of the fence will coincide with a significant reduction of overnight shelter capacity in the city.

Since December, the Lancaster County Food Hub has been providing 80 shelter beds at 232 N. Prince St., the former Benjamin Roberts building. It is doing so under two 40-bed contracts with the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, one for the ongoing 40-bed shelter that was previously housed at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the other a short-term “extended shelter” contract, also for 40 beds.

The latter contract ends after March 31, taking those beds out of service. The other contract ends June 30, as does the lease at 232 N. Prince St. with owner Parcel B Development, which is planning to start construction at the site this summer.

Plans after June 30 remain up in the air, Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Justin Eby said. The coalition has been looking for months for a backup site to use until the planned opening of a shelter in December at Otterbein United Methodist Church, so far to no avail.

The Redevelopment Authority houses the offices of the Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition. The organizations are aware of the plan to fence in the Government Center, said the authority’s Jocelynn Naples (formerly Jocelyn Ritchey).

The coalition will continue to work with the city and county governments and partner organizations to address homelessness,” she said, with an emphasis on street outreach.

That’s in line with the interim homelessness response plan for this summer and fall that Eby and Deb Jones, who heads the coalition, presented to City Council in late February.

To date, the extended-shelter portion of the Food Hub’s North Prince Street operation has housed 224 unique individuals, Executive Director Paige McFarling said, remaining full or close to it night after night.

Her team has been working hard to refer shelter guests to more permanent housing, but for many of the 224, that next step isn’t there yet, she said. Staffing remains an acute challenge, she said.

The Food Hub will continue deploying as many outreach workers as it can during “this time of shelter transition,” she said.

“Whether we like it or not, there will be many unhoused neighbors on the streets of Lancaster city,” she said, “and those numbers continue to grow.”