The Pulaski County Council and Commissioners are each asking the other group for direction on courthouse security. Last week, the commissioners indicated that they’re ready to act on the issue. But during Monday’s county council meetings, Council Member Kathi Thompson pointed out that it hasn’t been factored into the 2020 budget proposal.
“Security is something we have to talk about, but we also have to talk about what the cost of that is,” she said. “And it will be a cost of something, whether it be services or line items or whatever. Security is going to come at a cost to the rest of the budget, and I think it’s important. But then you commissioners need to tell us what you’re thinking.”
To add urgency to the matter, Circuit Court Judge Mary Welker told council members that counties are now being mandated to create and implement court security plans by January. “So you have a deadline for finding a way to fund it, or we’ll set up a plan and then we’ll deal with it that way because we’re going to have to do something,” Welker said.
Council Member Brian Young thought the commissioners could put security into place immediately by using existing sheriff’s deputies. “For the same price we’re paying Deputy X, you lock all the doors except the west basement door, you put one deputy, while he’s on duty, in the courthouse,” Young said. “You don’t have to cut anymore. It could be done today.”
But Sheriff Jeff Richwine said he doesn’t currently have any deputies he can spare. He felt the most economical option would be to rotate jail officers into the courthouse duties. “I think it takes at least three people for each spot because you’ve got to have two there, and then, when one of them is off or whatever, you’ve got to have somebody there,” Richwine added.
County officials have also been getting proposals for an outside security company, but Richwine had some concerns with that idea. In any case, commissioners Kenny Becker and Jerry Locke didn’t think it made sense to add security unless the guards are armed, which Richwine seemed to agree with.
Going forward, Council Member Thompson wanted the commissioners to take a vote at their next meeting, to officially ask the council to include security funding in the 2020 budget. But Becker pointed out that the commissioners need to know how much money the council is willing to commit.
As for how to pay for courthouse security, Community Development Commission Executive Director Nathan Origer suggested that the significant cuts the EMS Department is making to its budget might free up public safety income tax revenues. Thompson’s understanding was that EMS hopes to bring in $390,000 next year, while only spending $240,000.