How long is temporary?

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By Katy Korkos

When the Community Building was remodeled to serve as an impermanent home for the Municipal and District courts as well as for Council Chambers, the county was assured by Judge James A. Hall that the space would be approved for use as a courtroom as long as it was only temporary. At the time, new courtrooms were planned in the Judicial Police/Jail Complex.However, council stepped back from its Aug. 21 decision to proceed with the complex on Oct. 3. Hall and Court Administrator Stephen Pacheco then reconsidered their approval.In a letter dated Oct. 10, Hall wrote, “Now that the project has been delayed and it appears that we will be in a temporary facility until the summer of 2010, it is necessary that the temporary facility be improved so that we can conduct both criminal and civil jury trials in Los Alamos County.”“Because it now appears that these temporary facilities will be necessary for at least two-and-a-half years, we are requesting that Los Alamos County immediately make the changes and additions so that we can return to the practice of conducting jury trials in Los Alamos County,” the letter states.Hall went on in his letter to detail 14 improvements that must be made to the space “in order to safely conduct trials in Los Alamos County, among them a separate entrance to the building for in-custody defendants and a rail separating the public from the participants in the trial.”Project Manager Don Russo, who will oversee the further remodel in the Community Building, presented the courtroom requirements to council Tuesday evening. He asked for approval of a $185,000 increase to the budget for vacating the Municipal Building. The remodel of the Community Building completed in August 2007 cost $600,000.Russo told council that he had looked at several options for providing the required courtroom space, including placing modular buildings near the police station. “We looked at putting up a big steel building somewhere, but that would be expensive, and still only be temporary,” Russo said.Russo also looked at housing the courts in modular buildings, and placing those buildings at the corner of Oppenheimer and Trinity Drive, near the police station. However, a quintuple-wide modular building would have cost the county $631,000. “We’ve heard citizen concerns about the pace of justice here,” said Council Chair Jim Hall (no relation to Judge Hall. “We should make every effort to provide a workable courtroom.”“I believe it’s a disgrace for a county not to have a facility to hold trials for its citizens,” Councilor Jim West said when he made the motion to approve spending the money to remodel the Community Building. “This is the only option that meets the court’s timeline, and it’s one-half to one-third the cost of the other options.”The council approved the additional $185,000 for construction costs in a 7-to-0 vote.

 Revenue scenarios

Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne provided three revenue projections to councilors, to help them in making major financial decisions on capital improvements. Lynne prepared three scenarios, including a baseline scenario, a conservative scenario and a “worse than expected” scenario.In each, the county’s various sources of revenue were presented as line items, with the most variability in the line labeled “Gross Receipts Taxes.” The baseline scenario shows actual 2007 GRT at $48,856,692, and the projected 2012 amount at $48,453,355. Under the conservative scenario, the 2012 projection would be $45,523,509, and under the “worse than expected” projection, the county would receive $41,384,146 in GRT in 2012.“This is certainly a pessimistic view, and I’m not sure it’s justifiable,” Councilor Michael Wheeler said. “The lab budget is still $2.2 billion. It’s academically interesting, but the reality will be different. I don’t want to go off into this scenario with a totally negative attitude.”“You’ve given me everything I asked for,” Councilor Nona Bowman said. “I hope we don’t have to use the worst case.”“We’re on the right track for exactly the kind of analysis we need to go through right now,” Councilor Robert Gibson said.The Feb. 5 council meeting has a packed agenda, with possible action by councilors on major spending items: the presentation of the report on the Municipal Building, further information on the Judicial Police Jail Complex options and an overview of the Capital Improvement Plan by Lynne. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at 475 20th St., and will be broadcast and streamed via PAC-8.