Agreement needed to pave way for alliance project
Part of what we do in the newspaper business is keep an eye on cases that wind their way through Walworth County’s court system. If you’ve followed these court cases even for a short time, you become startled by the volume of child sexual assault cases prosecuted in Walworth County.
I’ve never seen a comparative analysis with other counties, but we either have more than our share of such cases, or these cases aren’t overshadowed by even more horrendous crimes.
In either case, there’s a great need to help and to provide justice for these young victims.
Plans for a specialized facility, operated by the Walworth County Alliance for Children, or WCAC, are moving forward, but concerns by some on the Geneva Town Board, which owns the land, could delay the project.
Writer Todd Mishler first reported on the project Jan. 8, and at the time, the group was in the process of acquiring the deed for the land from Walworth County.
WCAC came about from the Children’s Court Advisory Board in fall 2007 and gained its nonprofit status in 2008.
The organization currently operates its child advocacy center out of the Walworth County health and human services building.
The new 4,300-square-foot facility would be built on a five-acre parcel next door. It will include two interview rooms and a medical examination room, as well as therapy and family areas.
WCAC members have been involved with establishing the sexual assault nurse examiner program, changing statewide sentencing guidelines, crafting the Victims Bill of Rights and HIV/STD testing requirements and increasing the penalties for repeat offenders.
Center Director Paula Hocking told Mishler that last year alone, the WCAC received 945 referrals and conducted 243 forensic interviews.
“I’ve been involved with child abuse and neglect work for 23 years, and after the court advisory system was created, the goal was to increase public awareness and start educating professionals in all of the areas involved,” Hocking said. “The idea all along has been to offer a place, a one-stop shop, where members of our team can provide the best outcomes for kids and families.”
The only issue remaining is approval of the building permit by the town of Geneva. The sticking point is a requirement for a fire safety system and a payment in lieu of taxes, otherwise known as a PILOT agreement. The board approved the requirement by a split 3-2 vote.
PILOT agreements are created when property is tax exempt so that municipalities can recover costs from the property owner for services such as fire and police protection or administrative costs.
Reporter Stan Milam reported that town board Chairman Joe Kopecky has indicated that the PILOT agreement is a requirement before the town board would approve a building permit.
We all understand that budgets are tight these days, and the town of Geneva could very well have legitimate concerns over the potential for added costs.
However, the faster both sides can hammer out an agreement the better.
After getting approvals from a myriad of other jurisdictions, this project shouldn’t be held up any longer than possible.
The need is real, and the opportunity for Walworth County to take the lead in the treatment of child sexual assault victims is an opportunity that should not be passed over.
The Geneva Town Board’s next meeting is Monday.