Putting taxpayer-funded facilities to the most cost-efficient use

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Gilpin County

By Roger Baker

If the last-minute, deadline-driven communication tower compromise that was the subject of last week’s special meeting of the Gilpin County Commissioners is an example of a cooperative project gone somewhat awry (though, overall, still providing a tremendous improvement in communications abilities among our emergency responders), the Memorandum of Understanding approved at Tuesday’s meeting is an example of a project gone very, very right.

This agreement for utilization of the courtroom facilities at the Justice Center is itself the outgrowth of a longer-term arrangement that the County has with the state judicial system, and most particularly the 1st Judicial District.

Some folks will remember the historic – if somewhat depressing and bordering on barbarous – jail in the basement of the Old Courthouse here in Central City. More will probably remember that the meeting room where the Commissioners now hold forth was originally the courtroom, and used in that capacity until the first years of gaming proved the need for vastly increased detention and trial facilities.

After a brief interlude in the old Clark School in Central City, the courts – along with the jail, patrol operations, dispatch and the rest of the criminal justice system in Gilpin County – moved out to the new Justice Center.

The tremendous year-round increase in visitor traffic caused by gaming led to a corresponding increase in criminal behavior, so the number of trials natural increased as well.

So early in the process of designing the Justice Center, it was agreed to provide courtroom space not just for the sorts of minor offenses that were tried in County Court, but also for a sort of satellite branch of the 1st Judicial District, so that more serious cases could still be tried locally, with tremendous cost and time savings for all our Sheriff’s Office personnel. We’d probably need another half-dozen deputies if they had to go down to Golden to testify in all the Gilpin-generated cases that are now part of the District Court docket.

And while that arrangement between the County and the 1st Judicial District hasn’t been without some challenges – now that the Justice Center is showing its age, and things are starting to break, it’s not always clear who pays for what – it’s certainly been a great boon to both parties.

So when these two parties were approached by a third – the City of Black Hawk – for a similar courtroom accommodation, we were confident (based on experience) we could make it work.

The Black Hawk Municipal Court had met for years in the old Presbyterian Church the City now owns, but when that charming but antiquated building came due for a major renovation, the municipal court (and the City Council, for that matter) had to find a new home. And while having a trial in one of the meeting rooms at Ameristar, say, might have a certain ironic appeal, it made a lot of sense to use a courtroom that was designed for that particular function.

And since the Municipal Court hearings are in the evening, long after things have shut down in the District and County courts, it was a pretty easy matter to let them use the courtrooms at the Justice Center. In fact, it’s a fine example of putting taxpayer-funded facilities to the most cost-efficient use.

As the revenues for both the County and the two cities remain relatively flat, and costs continue to rise, cooperative projects like this are likely to multiply. There are always details to negotiate, and not everything works to everyone’s satisfaction all the time, but such arrangements just make sense.

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