Diane Thress and her former work partner, Linda Brandenburgh, used to operate the Child Support Enforcement office in a back corner of the Platte County Attorney’s office.
While conveniently located directly across from County Attorney Carl Hart Jr.’s office, it wasn't the most comfortable setting.
“It was pretty small,” Thress said. “We were on top of each other. A lot of times, when you moved your chair or opened a file drawer, you would back into someone. We also had nowhere to meet with clients. It was time to approach the board for finding us a bigger location where we could serve clients who came in and needed assistance.”
Thress and her newly expanded staff no longer need to worry about playing bumper chairs in their office. Three weeks ago, the Child Support Enforcement office moved into an old courtroom just a door down from the county attorney’s Office.
The move was necessary due to the expansion of Thress’ staff following an audit by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. According to Hart Jr., the agency was worried that the two workers had too big of a work load and needed to expand in order to make it a bit more manageable.
“They determined we had well over 1,500 cases that were being handled by two experienced workers,” Hart Jr. said. “They did a comparison with other counties (that had the same workload) and some counties had as many as four workers. They told us ‘You people are doing more than your fair share if you’re working 750 cases per employee.’ That’s twice the workload of child support collection workers in other counties.”
With Brandenburgh retiring in June 2018, and with DDHS forcing an expansion of staff, space was incredibly cramped for the already extremely busy unit. Thus began the search for a new place to call home starting in fall 2018.
One of the options included moving the department into the basement of the courthouse that previously housed the Nebraska Extension-Platte County office. The idea was seriously considered, and hearings were held where discussion and debate took place.
Ultimately, it was not a popular recommendation.
“The solution, arguably, was to put someone down in the basement,” Hart Jr. said. “Nobody wanted to go down there. It’s not very nice.”
The proposal also would have been inconvenient for both the workers and the attorneys appointed to fight these cases. They would have had to go up four flights of stairs just to get to the county attorney’s office.
“I didn’t want to do it, because how could I supervise these three child support employees?” Hart Jr. inquired. “That means I have to get on an elevator or go down four flights of stairs. One of my lawyers is going down there, as well. We could do those things, but we found a (better) solution.”
Eventually, the board settled on the old courtroom. Four months of work followed, in an effort to reconfigure the space from a hall of justice into suitable office quarters.
Tile was replaced with new carpet, and electrical wiring was installed to facilitate a modern office with computers and access to databases. Most importantly, Thress says that the new office has plenty of space for her staff, not to mention plenty of new amenities to help those who need it most.
“Clients can come in and talk to us,” Thress said. “The front desk has a computer that we can all log on to and talk to the clients at the front desk, rather than having them come back and see confidential information that they don’t need to see. We can talk to them up front and take care of them right there.”
Hart Jr. is also very satisfied with how things transpired. While there may be a need for an additional courtroom sometime in the future, he doesn’t think he will have to uproot the staff that just moved.
“I don’t anticipate that happening,” he said. “I don’t think that in the near future we would expect to get that (Child Support Enforcement) bumped out of here.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for the Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org