The city of Westerville's bond issue could alleviate security issues with its mayor's court if it is passed.
The city's police and mayor's court staff are in three separate buildings. Planning for a new police and court facility has been underway for nearly a decade, according to the city's website, westerville.org. The concept was planned for a number of reasons, but the primary reason is that a larger facility is needed because the police division has outgrown its 30-year-old building, according to the site.
A 20-year, 0.96-mill bond issue that would cost $33.60 annually per $100,000 of property valuation starting in 2021 is on the Nov. 5 ballot as Issue 29, intended for the purpose of funding the facility. Estimated costs for the project are about $15 million, according to the city website.
City Manager David Collinsworth said the city acquired a building and property at 229 Huber Village Blvd. in August 2018 and intended it be used in the future as a police and court facility. The city acquired the building and parcel for $1.9 million, below its original asking price of more than $2.5 million, according to the city website
Marisa Akamine, court administrator and clerk of court for the city, said mayor's court currently operates out of council chambers and frequently runs into space and security issues.
"We are one of the busiest mayor's courts in the state of Ohio," she said.
She said a large number of people are present in the court during the twice-a-day dockets, which causes space issues.
Mayor's court is scheduled every Wednesday, with 9 a.m. marking the start of pretrials and traffic and criminal arraignments.
Trials begin at 10 a.m.
She said the court space, because it is designed and setup for council, doesn't quite serve their purposes.
"The courtroom is used for council chambers and we flip it around and use it like a courtroom. So it's not set up like a normal courtroom," she said.
Akamine said there are a number of security concerns when court is in session. She said Westerville mayor's court has a contract with the Franklin County jail and have safety concerns with prisoners coming to court. Because there is no secure entrance, she said prisoners have to walk through the parking lot behind City Hall, 21 S. State St., into court.
"That's a complete security risk when they are walking through the parking lot and going into the courtroom," she said.
She said the prisoners also sit in the gallery and have no secure holding facility, which has caused incidents in the past.
She said this also is uncomfortable for victims of crimes, regardless of what the incident is, who have no safe space where they can sit.
If prisoners need to use the restroom, she said, they have to use the public restroom at City Hall with officer supervision.
She said they always take the prisoners' cases first because of the security issues present.
Additionally, Akamine said there are no private meeting rooms where lawyers can meet with clients, so they frequently must meet on the steps outside.
For visitors to the courtroom, she said they do have a metal detector to pass through but have no place to secure weapons such as pocket knives.
She said officials make people return such items to their vehicle.
"We have no (real) idea where they take it out back to," she said.
Akamine said these issues could be corrected in the new facility, which would have a secure holding area, more space and meeting rooms for attorneys and their clients.
She also said it would be beneficial for the police and court to be combined in one space so those who need to go to both the police station and mayor's court wouldn't have to go to two different locations.
For more information about the facility, go to westerville.org.