Court officials have complained relentlessly that security breaches abound at the present location because it lacks proper infrastructure. For example, concerns over the safety of prisoner transport procedures and a shortage of bailiffs are often cited as reasons for the court to find a new, more stable home.
“If we waited for the opportune time … none of us would be here” to see a change of residence, Judge Kevin Higgins told Washoe County commissioners on Monday as a way of rebuffing arguments against moving the court in a time of record budget deficits.
The fact that the court handles the second largest caseload of any in the state, Higgins said, only complicates the matter. Meanwhile, civil litigation, traffic citations, misdemeanor criminal offense trials and felony arraignments are on the rise.
As a result, Higgins said budget cuts for the coming fiscal year are all the more difficult to process.
The court is prepared slash $37,000 from its 2011-12 budget in order to meet its share of reductions needed to help close a $33.5 million countywide deficit.
Though immediate impacts would be limited, Higgins said that additional security issues could be felt in the near future.
Because the court will cover its own budget shortfall, in part, by transferring 40 percent of operating expenses from its general fund to its administrative assessment fund, there will likely be no money left to purchase new X-ray machines and magnetometers when existing ones need replacing.
Higgins said the court would have to resort to conducting hand searches of personal belongings and wand searches of each person, which the public and employees find intrusive and time-consuming.
Furthermore, potential impacts might be felt as a result of an overburdened staff. The staff-to-judge ratio at the court is already below the state average. Operating hours and public access could be reduced to help stave off these shortages, Higgins said.
Meanwhile, officials have their eyes trained squarely on Carson City, where state legislators are working to cobble together their own budget. Expectations are that the county is likely to see its deficit grow by several millions of dollars no matter what version passes through the Legislature.
Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget, for instance, would add $25 million to the county’s budget shortfall by pushing down responsibility for certain services while charging local governments for others it will continue to provide.
One bill being considered would increase the court’s small claims jurisdiction to $7,500 from a current $5,000 ceiling, meaning even more caseloads, Higgins said.
Another bill, spurred by the murder of Brianna Denison, would allow police to capture DNA samples from persons arrested for felonies, sexual offenses and gross misdemeanors. Current law allows law enforcement to do so only after a conviction.
The Sparks Justice Court would have to cover a portion of this new expense.
For Higgins, these impacts just compound current safety issues. Everything comes back to being stuck in a building better suited for a post office.
“The worry I have is that something (bad) will happen in the parking lot” because of security lapses at the court, Higgins said.