Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Courts--Odds & Ends

Thanks to the Free Lance Star for covering the debate on new court facilities in Fredericksburg in the Viewpoint section. Each side of the argument was included and I have provided the links for each below:

The case for continuing to move forward with the current roughly 40 million dollar proposal was put forward by Vice Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw:

Next Ward #3 Councilman Fred Howe made the case for looking at other options:

And finally yours truly made the case that the city can't afford new court facilities and needs to focus on city priorities in these tight financial times:

You cannot cover everything in an 800 word OpEd so I am going to take a moment to respond to the other two OpEds as well as provide some additional points to consider.

I have to give Councilman Howe credit for acknowledging the current financial situation the city faces and also bringing into the discussion whether the city should be taking more of the its limited real estate off the tax rolls with public buildings. He is looking at the big picture and not just focusing on court needs.

I have some concerns regarding the proposed reuse of Executive Plaza as a court site but will withhold comment on the proposal until after the presentation is made at the 8/25 work session. Again my issue is timing and cost. We need to look at all possible options to include a regional approach and incremental work as opposed to just the only option provided which is build new facilities.

Other than a casual mention of the current financial situation the city faces the Vice Mayor goes right into the current plans for new court facilities ignoring the impact they will have on city needs and priorities. She has validated my comments in my OpEd on how Council has failed to explain the impact of this project on the city and not brought the public into the discussion on a rather large project for which they will have to pay. To condense her OpEd to its most basic points its says--We got a letter from Judge Scott to address court needs, the Council deliberated and came up with the current $40 million plan, and oh by the way, please feel free to comment on it but we are moving forward regardless.

Some Additional Info:

As noted there has been some discussion on affordability. There are members of Council and staff who have said the current $40 million option is affordable. Let me let staff comment on this point as it is found on page 66 of the Mosley report: "City staff has indicated that a cost of more than about $30 million for new court facilities is not affordable for the City at this time. As a result, any of these three options are cost prohibitive." Council's response was to start looking at a $60 million option at the Post office site. I would again point out this position was put forward prior to the economic meltdown.

On the issue of regional growth pushing the necessity for additional court space lets go back to the Mosley Report, "The city’s population is not expected to grow significantly during the coming years, but continued rapid growth is expected in the surrounding counties. As a result, the Fixed Ratio to City Population model would not seem to be a reliable indicator of future case filings. It predicts no meaningful change in case filings for any of the courts, even though it seems certain that increasing regional population has substantially affected court case loads in the past."

At some point it has been said that in consolidating the courts there will be operation savings. Well let's see what Glave & Holmes, drafters of the current proposal have to say, "Glave & Holmes Assoc. acknowledged that they did not see any significant savings, but rather some increases, in operational costs. In the Moseley report the number of employees need to operate the facility over the next 20 years will rise from 78 to 118."

Here is the link to Virginia Code section 15.2-1643,

I'll let you come to your own conclusions on whether the local judiciary can mandate court construction.

As noted in my OpEd the General Assembly had placed a moratorium on implementing the process as outlined in 15.2-1643 in the previous budget. They have now extended that action in the new budget, "F. Mandated changes or improvements to court facilities pursuant to § 15.2-1643, Code of Virginia, or otherwise shall be delayed at the request of the local governing body in which the court is located until June 30, 2012. The provisions of this item shall not apply to facilities that were subject to litigation on or before November 30,2008." So even the General Assembly is acknowledging the rather bad financial situation we face. All Council has to do is ask for the moratorium.

Some have questioned whether the city has considered the impact of improvements in technology on the growth needs of the courts. To date this question has still not been addressed. Here is a link to a recent story on this topic which was forwarded to Council members,

If you have specific questions or other suggestions or concerns about this issue I would be happy to take a stab at them.

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