Judging 2 New Ideas For New Watertown CourtPosted: Updated:
Two new options are on the table for city courtrooms in Watertown.
One would keep city court downtown, the other would move it near the Public Safety Building on Waterman Drive.
The downtown option is seemingly the more popular one.
"As we talk about downtown revitalization, I think moving your courthouse out of downtown would be a mistake," said Mark Walczyk, Watertown City Council member.
Mayor Joe Butler agreed with that sentiment over the phone.
The original plan floated for city courtrooms would have put an addition onto the county courthouse, at a cost of $2 to $3 million, allowing for shared security and convenient access to both courts.
But to keep the city's court on city property, the new downtown option would put a stand alone building in the city owned parking lot on Arcade Street.
A skywalk or walkway would connect to the county court, still allowing for those shared services.
"Where staff for the county or the city would be able to go between those two buildings, and it just centralizes that process," said Justin Wood, city engineer.
With changing legislation regarding young defendants and the need to pay for lawyers for poor people accused of crimes, county officials say they need to keep their options open for future changes in their own court.
"We have to be cautious when we're looking ahead that we don't cut ourselves short in terms of having courts available, space for additional courts, or stuff like that," said Jefferson County Legislature Chair Scott Gray.
One thing, even though the city has been talking up the need for parking downtown, this plan would eliminate about 15 parking spots, though improving downtown parking in other areas has been an emphasis of the downtown revitalization effort.
The city has to build the new courthouse because it now has two full-time judges.
The state requires that each full-time judge have their own court room, although lawyers who use the city court have said the case load isn't heavy enough to require 2 courtrooms.
Mayor Butler says whether the city actually needs the courtroom is irrelevant.