Guilford County government is getting beefed-up guard service and a new security provider.

On Friday, March 31, the county’s contract that provides guards for the two courthouses and other county buildings is being transferred from Lankford Protective Services – a firm that last year was found to have a multi-million dollar federal tax lien against it – to Allied Universal Security out of Winston-Salem.

The move will give Guilford County more access to armed guards for events and county-run property, and it will mean that the county moves away from using a security service provider that is facing a huge tax debt. Last spring, the Guilford County commissioners held off on approving a new contract with Lankford after it became known that the company was facing $7.2 million in federal tax liens.

As part of an effort to settle that IRS debt, Lankford is selling some of its security contracts to other providers, including its contract with Guilford County.

The Guilford County Security Department has 15 positions and about 13 of those are guards, but the county relies heavily on contract work to provide security. For instance, on Monday, March 27, a relatively average day, Guilford County had 23 contracted security guards working.

The question of what to do regarding this contract has been hanging over the county commissioners’ heads for more than year. Earlier this month, in a Board of Commissioners work session, Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing brought up the issue and said he expected it to be resolved soon. When he did, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips remarked that the board had been hearing that same old song for about a year.

Guilford County Security Director Jeff Fowler said this week that continuing under the old contract meant that existing guards had to be juggled or borrowed from positions at the courthouse in Greensboro. He said that, despite that, the department has “sucked it up” and the cost and stress on the existing force hasn’t been too great.

“We haven’t used a lot of overtime,” Fowler said.

The Security Department has two Segways that allow officers to scoot quickly from one building to another. The Segways can also be used for pursuit as long as those fleeing do not run faster than 12 miles per hour or step up onto a curb.

When asked whether there will be new guards protecting Guilford County due to the new contract, Fowler said he expects the security force to look very similar to before, since Allied Universal was “doing an assumption” of the Lankford contract and should be using a lot of the same guards who know the beat and have worked it for Lankford.

“It does appear that way – that most, if not all of those, will stay,” he said of Lankford employees.

The use of additional contract security guards varies depending on daily needs, meetings, courthouse traffic, special events and other factors.

Fowler said that this move finally allows the county to increase security in places – especially armed guards. Eleven of the 13 county guards are armed but this new arrangement will allow for more armed guards.

“The board gave us funding for two company police officers in the [2016-2017] budget,” Fowler said.

Those new positions established last year, but unfilled until now, were largely due to the desire of the commissioners to have beefed up security at two county buildings that house the county’s social services operations. Sometimes trouble comes from heated child custody debates or from disputes related to social services benefits. At times, the county has had had one armed officer at those locations, but moving forward there may often be more than one armed officer.

Last March, the Guilford County commissioners were scheduled to approve the expanded service from Greensboro-based Lankford at a Board of Commissioners meeting but, instead, after learning of the massive liens, the board pulled that item from their agenda and awaited further developments in Lankford’s situation. They kept hearing that Lankford would merge with another security company very soon.

In March 2016, the commissioners wanted to hold off entering into a new contract with Lankford after learning that Lankford had the giant tax liens for non-payment of payroll taxes. At that time, Lankford’s owner said the debt was under $2 million and his company was paying the rest off in an amicable deal with the IRS.

Deputy County Manager Clarence Grier, County Attorney Mark Payne and Lawing met with Lankford to discuss the situation and Guilford County took a wait-and-see stance.

The City of Greensboro, which also had a contract for Lankford for security services until March 2016, pulled out of its contract and found new providers. The city had a clause in its contract with Lankford that required the company pay its taxes.

At that time, Payne said Guilford County’s contract with Lankford didn’t have a clause that states the company must pay its taxes, but that it did have a clause that stated Lankford must conduct its business in accordance with the law.

Payne said in March 2016 that, if Lankford was on a payment plan with the IRS and paying as agreed, that might satisfy that part of the contract. Lankford has been trying to address its tax debt over the last year.

This week, Phillips said the security issue had been lingering a long time.

“It’s kind of been put on hold,” he said.

Phillips said there was a will of the board to beef up security in some county buildings last spring that were seen to be high risk; however, those efforts stalled after the revelation about the security contract.

Fowler said that adding the new positions would have been a “substantial change” to the existing contract and that county leadership wanted to see a resolution to the tax lien issue before essentially entering into a new contract with Lankford or finding a new provider.

Before the news of the $7 million in liens last spring, the commissioners were set to approve an addition to an existing contract to use Lankford to provide two armed security guards for the county: one at Guilford County’s human services building on 1203 Maple St. in Greensboro, and one at the county’s building at 325 E. Russell Ave. in High Point that houses many services including social services.

Over the years, Lankford has established a good working relationship with Guilford County and many county officials said the Lankford workers had provided the county with excellent service. That’s one reason Guilford County has been so reluctant to find a new provider.   However, needless to say, some county commissioners were taken aback by the company’s giant tax bill for unpaid payroll taxes. Now the county will have a new provider but will largely keep the same workforce that covers those duties.