York County needs a long-range master plan for providing adequate court facilities to meet growing needs. And in all likelihood, the plan should include not only expanding Moss Justice Center but also building a second justice center in Rock Hill or Fort Mill.
Council members met earlier this month to discuss budget priorities and ways to pay for future county projects. During the meeting, the council heard an impassioned plea from Kevin Brackett, the countys solicitor, for expansion of courtrooms and office space at Moss Justice Center.
Brackett notes that existing facilities arent adequate to keep pace with the growing docket of criminal cases that must be disposed of. Without more space to hold trials and accommodate staff, the trial schedule will back up, more defendants will be released on bond and more cases will be rushed, said Brackett.
He said his team of solicitors prosecuted about 6,500 criminal cases in 2010. Trends show the county could have to handle about 7,600 cases a year in the near future, which would virtually swamp the system.
While a new prison facility has been added at Moss Justice Center, courtroom and office space has not been expanded since 1994. Since then, both the countys population and criminal activity have increased significantly.
In 2006, the county held a referendum on a $75 million bond package that included more courtrooms and office space at Moss Justice Center. The package also included construction of a 48-hour holding facility, a new family court and a magistrates court building in downtown Rock Hill.
The package, which some critics regarded as a something for everyone grab-bag of too many projects, was rejected by voters. Unfortunately, that left a number of pressing needs unresolved.
Now, as then, the idea of locating law facilities in eastern York County makes sense. Sheriffs deputies still are wasting considerable time transporting inmates from Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Tega Cay to York.
Sheriff Bruce Bryant notes that 60 percent of the 911 calls for deputies originate in the eastern part of the county. Building a new justice center closer to the countys densest concentration of people would increase the efficiency of both holding inmates and bringing them to trial.
Ultimately, both the expansion of Moss Justice Center and new facilities in eastern York County are likely to be necessary to keep up with growth. The issue should be a top priority for the county.
County Manager Jim Baker has left for a new job in Chesapeake, Va., but before departing he attended the planning session. He stressed that council members should avoid thinking short-term, and that planning for only a few years down the road would result in bad decisions.
We agree. The council needs to address the countys long-term needs, taking into account projected growth patterns and the inevitable increase in future criminal activity.
Council members might get only one shot at this, and they need to get it right.