Forsyth city manager Janice Hall recommended to city council that rather than sign an intergovernmental agreement with Monroe County to rent its courtroom facility at its Justice Center for a substantial increase in cost, Forsyth start holding municipal court in Alderman Hall, the building where it held council meetings until moving to its new city hall at the end of September.
When Forsyth moved out of its old city hall on the square (Jackson Street) in 2017, the county agreed to let the city use its Justice Center for municipal court proceedings, which are held approximately three times per month. Hall said the Sheriff’s Office preferred to use its own bailiffs and deputies, and the city agreed to reimburse the county for their salaries.
County manager Jim Hedges said when the Sheriff’s Office reviewed the cost incurred by the city using the Justice Center, the county found it wasn’t recovering what it cost. Hedges sent Hall an intergovernmental agreement with a cost of $2,100/day for use of the Justice Center, which includes the salaries for bailiffs, deputies and jailers as well as supplies.
Hall told council the new rate will make the cost to the city $6,300/month and $75,600/year. Hall said the city paid the county $8,255 in 2020, which was the highest amount for a year it had paid since it started using the Justice Center in 2017. She said the city only uses the Justice Center court from about 2-6 p.m., but the county is insisting it pay for a full 8-hour day.
At Hall’s request Hedges broke down the costs as two bailiffs for 8 hours, $400; three deputies for 8 hours, $647; 2.5 jailers (to escort persons to and from the jail to the courtroom) for 2.5 hours, $157; Justice Center $800; supplies & maintenance $130, for a total of $2,134 per day.
The intergovernmental agreement is for the city to use the lobby, Magistrate Court room and Superior Court room, the public restrooms and judge’s chambers. The county provides power, internet including Wi-Fi, air conditioning, heating, water, and security for the Justice Center and Courtroom by the Sheriff’s Office.
Hall said the city can get the equipment it needs to hold court in Alderman Hall for less than $75,000. She said the city can use its own police officers to escort prisoners to and from court. She said Forsyth should only pay for the salaries of bailiffs and deputies as it has been doing. Council approved a motion to do so.
“We’ll go back to what we were doing in 2017,” said Hall.
Council member Melvin Lawrence asked why municipal court couldn’t be held in the new city hall. Hall said she had talked with Police Chief Eddie Harris about where to hold municipal court, and he thought Alderman Hall would be better. Hall said there is no where for attorneys, clients, judges, etc. to meet outside of the courtroom in the new city hall without scattering all over the building. She said otherwise issues are about the same with the new city hall and Alderman Hall.
“It goes back to service delivery. They’re not supposed to charge us for services we’re not receiving. The city is part of the county,” said Mayor Eric Wilson. “$2,100 is ridiculous.”
Hall noted that the city annexed the Monroe County Justice Center so that it is now part of the city. (The main reason the city gave for annexing the Justice Center was so that municipal elections could be held there without voters having to go to two polling places on Election Days when there were city and other elections.)
“I’d really like to put this to bed before the first of the year,” said council member Julius Stroud.