Justice center expansion a step closer

County commissioners recently approved a fund transfer that will help pay for a $30 million public safety expansion project. 
Commissioners appropriated $1,555,455 to the county’s justice and public safety center expansion project that started about three years ago.

The expansion project will give the justice center more courtrooms and revitalize a 911 communications center that is in need of restoration, said Rodney Miller, Catawba County finance director over facilities. 

The fund transfer follows North Carolina legislation that permits county governments to use returned funds from the state for public safety projects. 
Miller said the county pays the state a fee each year for landline phone usage. Each year, those fees are returned and put into an emergency telephone fund. The county generated about $3 million in returned funding; however, the state previously had very restrictive uses for what governments could use that money for. Miller said after a recent General Assembly session, the state gave counties the option to spend one-half of those returned dollars for public safety.

Thus, about $1.5 million was transferred from the emergency telephone fund to the justice center and public safety center project, Miller said. The commissioners approved the transfer last month. 

“Before, statutorily, we couldn’t spend that money we had generated,” Miller said. “Now, though, this added to our funds.” 
The county is expanding its justice and public safety centers because of a lack of space. Miller said a lack of courtrooms in the justice center is causing a “backlog of cases.” 
“We had heard from different groups really saying that the lack of courtrooms have caused a backlog in cases,” Miller said. “We weren’t able to process those cases as efficiently. Various groups have complained and said they have supported that.

In addition, the current 911 communications center is crowded, and communications center director Jerry Boggs said there is definitely a need for more space. 
“This is a 30-year-old building,” Boggs said. “The time has come to move forward and get bigger. The services are not cut at all, but if we had a bigger center, we would have a little bit more people to accommodate big-time coverage.


Design phase

Miller said the project is in its design phase, and said the county has hired an architect to plan out the specifics of the expansion. 
Once design begins and the planners figure out what they want the expansion to look like, it will be about one year until the county seeks bids from construction companies, Miller said. 

“We just need to give the architect a green light,” Miller said. 
The expansion project is years in the making and began with a referendum. 

In 2007, county commissioners held a referendum on a quarter-cent sales tax increase — with the proceeds from the increase going to be used to fund additional courtrooms, a new 911 communications center, an emergency operations center and various other safety functions for the county. 
That referendum passed, and the revenues started accumulating in 2008, Miller said.