By Gary Gould
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Davison — The Michigan Court of Appeals granted the 67th District Court’s request for an injunction Nov. 15, putting a halt on Genesee County’s plans to begin closing the outlying courthouses while the matter is decided in Lansing.
“The Court of Appeals has granted the District Court’s motion for temporary restraining order and for other relief,” said Attorney John Fraser with the Dykema Gossett law firm, representing the 67th District Court in the lawsuit against the county.
The appeals court also ordered the county to continue, at least temporarily, with its lease for the Davison 67th District Court, which was set to expire Nov. 30, he said.
The legal action, filed by the judges of the 67th District Court and supported by many municipalities in Genesee County, comes after the Genesee County Board of Commissioners decision Sept. 13 ordering the closure of the outlying 67th District Courtrooms, moving them all under one roof in the McCree Building, 630 Saginaw St., in downtown Flint.
On Monday night, the Atlas Township Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to support a request through the Michigan Township Association Executive Board in opposition to closing the out-county courts. The board also voted to allocate $1,000 to support the cost to file the letter of support due by Nov. 23, joining other county municipalities. Trustee Berry June voted no.
The plan would shutter four courtrooms by the end of March, including the Davison 67th District Court which share space with the Davison City municipal offices.
“That’s our court,” said David Lattie, township attorney. “The county plan is take all the Davison, Fenton, Grand Blanc, Flushing, Mt. Morris and Swartz Creek, then move them to the McCree Building in Flint. A lot oppose this for a practical reason and our part would be to demonstrate the impacts on our population regarding going downtown Flint). Also, our (Atlas Township) deputies would spend longer going to Flint than Davison. Code enforcement will also go downtown.”
Lattie said there is a cost saving factor for the county and that would be on the backs of the out-county taxpayers. Some also feel more money is being sent downtown that returned to local taxpayers.
The plan was drafted by Derek Bradshaw, director of the Genesee County Metropolitan Planning Commission, and Josh Freeman, director of administration for Genesee County, to address deteriorating buildings housing various county offices.
The focus of the plan is to save enough money, without raising taxes or cutting staff, to repair and improve four state mandated buildings in the county – the Genesee County Circuit Court, the Genesee County Jail, the county motor pool and the Genesee County Community Action Resource Department (GCCARD) warehouse.
Bradshaw said those buildings will cost the county $82.9 million in expenses over the next nine years, so the plan would move to close the six outlying 67th District Court buildings for a savings of $21 million over that period.
All of the money saved by these closures would be put into a capital improvement fund specifically to repair and update the four buildings in question.
The outlying communities of Genesee County – specifically those with courts located in them – have strongly oppose the plan to close the courthouses and consolidate them in Flint.
Among the reasons the municipalities oppose the county’s decision is an increase in wages those communities will pay to send police officers to court in Flint, taking them off the roads and out of their communities so they can testify in cases.
One estimate places the burden at about $150,000 per community in additional wages, mileage and other expenses, prompting some leaders to call it a “tax shift” by taking the burden off the county and placing it on the individual cities, townships and villages.
Among those organizations supporting the effort to halt the court closures is the Genesee County Association of Chiefs of Police, whose members discussed the proposed closing of the out-county court buildings and voted unanimously to oppose them at its October meeting.
In a letter to the Genese County Board of Commissioners, the GCACP membership stated it thinks the court closures are a “terrible idea.”
“Our challenge to you is to find the funding necessary to keep these buildings open and fully functional, even if it means asking the voters to pay a countywide millage,” the letter, signed by GCACP President Chief Brian J. Lipe. He is also the chief of police for the City of Grand Blanc.
“These buildings and the business conducted in each are vital to the efficiency of the judicial system here in Genesee County,” he said further, adding the out-county court buildings conduct more than 80 percent of the case load in the county.
“If you have ever been to the court buildings downtown, then you know just how busy they already are and imagine adding 80 percent more of a caseload to what is already going on,” Lipe states in the letter.
He details what he calls a “lack of space” in the McCree building, noting many of the people that account for this overcrowding are victims and witnesses for cases that are being heard.
(David Fleet, The Citizen newspaper editor contributed to this story)
By Gary Gould