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Howe to make courts pitch tomorrow
Councilman Fred Howe III has an item on tomorrow’s council agenda titled “Court Security Interim Phase I & Phase II Study/Analysis.”
Howe and Sheriff Paul Higgs have been working together for the past two months to develop what they say is a list of things the city could do now–as its deliberations over building a new courthouse are ongoing–to make the courts safer.
The document Howe is presenting to council members with this agenda item is here. It is based on recommendations made by the U.S. Marshal’s service in a 2006 report on security in the city’s three courts. That document is confidential for security reasons, and council members reviewed it in closed session last year.
Howe and Higgs are proposing more than $1 million in improvements–the final total is not known because many items, like lining judges’ benches with steel and making other building adjustments haven’t been priced out yet.
These include both ongoing expenses like hiring sheriff’s deputies and raising existing deputies’ pay, and capital expenses like buying surveillance cameras and installing card-based entry devices on courthouse doors.
The No. 1 priority Higgs identified in the document is establishing pay parity between sheriff’s deputies and city police officers. That is estimated to cost $114,807 for the current staff level.
Higgs said today that at this point, he isn’t losing deputies because of pay levels, but he fears that as the economy improves and more employment options become available, that could change.
Higgs emphasized that implementing these items could make the current courts safer, but, “The only way you’re going to make it safe is with a new complex.”
It’s important to remember that this proposal comes a month before the city manager is to release his budget proposal for next year. Higgs said none of the items in this document were part of the budget request he submitted for next year, because he didn’t start working on this until after the budget deadline for departments had passed. Howe said he’d like the council to run with this and place this spending into next year’s budget.
You’ll also see a “Phase 2″ level of spending in here, most of which is not priced out. Howe said that if, after the current request for proposals process runs its course, the council decides not to move forward with building a new courts facility, then the city should look at making a second phase of security improvements to its existing courts facilities.
“We can do some minor things to at least support the courts for the next two to three years while we go through whatever process the taxpayers decide we should go through,” Higgs said. “As soon as the issue was identified, it was incumbent upon us to solve as many of those problems as we humanly possibly could have solved.”