Security decision came with a cost

LISBON – The 2012 decision by Columbiana County commissioners to assume control over a portion of the courthouse security cost the county an additional $3,406 the first year.

The new arrangement cost a combined $114,181 in 2013 compared to $110,775 in 2011, the last full year under the old arrangement, according to figures compiled by the commissioners’ office after this newspaper began its own inquiry.

The initial numbers obtained indicated the combined costs increased by nearly 60 percent, but Commissioner Mike Halleck pointed out the 2011 figures excluded the full-time chief of security for common pleas court, who is paid from court’s general employee account and not the security account. The actual increase was 3 percent after that cost was included.

“It’s about the same as before,” Halleck said of the cost difference. “The fact of the matter is we followed the law that way it is written.”

Courthouse security consists of security checkpoints inside the front entrance and another on the second floor, where the common pleas and domestic relations courtrooms and offices are located.

The judges were in charge of both security checkpoints under a policy adopted by commissioners in 2009.

In mid 2012, the new board, led by Halleck, adopted a new policy in which the county sheriff was put in charge of the first-floor checkpoint.

They did this after researching the law, which states the sheriff is responsible for courthouse security, under the direction and control of commissioners, while the judges maintain authority over their courtrooms. Commissioners interpreted this to mean the judges could continue to set security policy for the second floor, while they and the sheriff are responsible for the rest of the courthouse.

The ensuing dispute resulted in a particular testy exchange between Halleck and Judge C. Ashley Pike during a board meeting.

The checkpoints are staffed mostly by part-time police officers, although shortly after taking over commissioners decided to turn the chief of security on the first floor into a full-time position because of scheduling problems. The security chief on the second floor remains full time.

Halleck said one of the reasons the combined costs in 2013 exceeded 2011 is because their full-time security chief at the time was taking the health insurance coverage, which costs an additional $8,379. The new security chief hired in 2014 does not take health insurance, and Halleck said combined spending this year is on track to be less than in 2011.

The judges in juvenile and municipal courts, which are in separate buildings, also have their own security staffs.

“It’s a necessary cost of governing in light of Sept. 11. You can’t put a price on someone’s security should a tragedy happen,” Halleck said.