April 5, 2011 —
If you notice some activity inside one of the new courthouse windows, it may not be construction workers.
It could be the staff of the Rowan County Child Support Division, who have already set up shop in their new digs, well before any of their neighbors.
“Our lease was up at the old facility, so we needed to move early. We moved in last Friday,” said County Attorney Cecil Watkins.
For two days, the office’s three staff members, Patty Adkins, Martha Damron and Ben Hamm shuffled boxes from their former Main Street locale to the new office while the county attorney’s office manned the phones.
“We took messages and tried to keep things going while they moved. I think we did pretty good, with most calls having a 24-hour turnaround,” Watkins said.
The smell of new everything permeates the reception area, where Watkins and two of his staff beam over the new space and over the progress the office has made in the last few years.
“We needed this space, and now my office is right across the hall. We don’t have to cross the street anymore to conduct business,” Watkins said.
There are about 2,600 open cases in the office, according to case management supervisor Martha Damron.
She said the office works to enforce support orders and, often, establish paternity.
“We have mothers and fathers coming here for DNA testing to establish paternity. The courts also will sometimes order paternity testing,” Damron said.
They also work with the Kentucky Cabinet for Children and Families to collect child support from noncustodial parents when the custodial parent receives public benefits like K-TAP or medical cards.
The state contracts with Rowan County to provide these services. Damron said the office has improved its performance in collections and paternity establishments in recent years.
“Four years ago we ranked 105th out of 120 counties in the state. Last year we jumped again from 87th to 56th place,” she said.
Today, Watkins said his office is on track to increase their rankings as they continue collections through agreements, wage assignments and, in some cases, by intercepting tax refunds.
He said those gains are a testament to the staff’s diligence and to cooperation with the sheriff’s office.
What about those who are not regularly paying child support? Watkins said the office does make accommodations for people who are trying to fulfill their child support obligations but who may be having employment difficulties.
“Every case is different. If a mom or dad comes in here and has lost a job through no fault of their own, we can review their current support obligations and may be able to make some adjustments,” Watkins said.
There are many cases however, where people just do not pay their child support obligation. Watkins said the office has become more aggressive in collections.
“In those cases, we will go pick them up. We work with the sheriff, with other counties and even other states to arrest people who are not paying,” he said.
Watkins said the office will pay the county $700 a month for rent. While the new facility will not be open to the public until late April, the public can call 784-2225 or go to the county attorney’s office in the old courthouse for assistance.
Noelle Hunter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 784-4116.