Saline Court to Expand. Chelsea’s Will Remain

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Court services are going to be improved across western Washtenaw County.

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday evening to expand Saline’s 14A-4 District Courthouse, make security improvements at Chelsea’s courthouse, and create a Western Washtenaw County Service Center.

This was the result of a long process where Washtenaw County’s courts formally assessed the state of their facilities county-wide. It was concluded that Saline’s court needs expanding, and that Chelsea’s security situation needs to be improved.

“Courts are a separate branch of government. So in Michigan, Washtenaw County has responsibilities for funding the court, but as a separate branch of government, decisions about how court cases are handled are made by judges, who are their own elected officials. There are multiple parties involved here deciding how courthouses are built and how courthouses are used,” Andrew DeLeeuw, Washtenaw County’s Director of Strategic Planning, told the Sun Times News last month.

The Capital Reserves Fund of Washtenaw County and the Public Improvement Fund of the District Court will split the $4,790,000 of improvements called for to add a courtroom in Saline, expand office space, meeting space, and improve security.

According to Wednesday evening’s packet, $4,140,813 of the budget will come from capital reserves, and $655,000 will come from the public improvement fund. The budget provides $3,813,750 for construction costs, $400,000 to install solar power in Saline, and $572,063 will be set aside in a contingency fund. Funding for improving security in Chelsea and establishing a new services center has been previously budgeted elsewhere, according to DeLeeuw. The solar installation in Saline is part of Washtenaw County’s goal of having all publicly owned county buildings run carbon neutral operations by the end of this decade.

Security has long been a concern in Chelsea’s courthouse, especially when it comes to cases concerning domestic violence. The possibility of the closure of the former bank alarmed Chelsea officials enough that they sent the courts, County Administrator Gregory Dill, and the Commissioners, a formal letter supporting the continuation of the existence of the court. Township governments also sent in letters supporting the continuation of court operations in Chelsea.

Chelsea Mayor Jane Pacheco told the Sun Times News in an interview last month that she saw the possibility of Chelsea’s location closing “an equity issue” because not everyone has a car with easy access to Saline. And as she pointed out, there is no direct bus line between the two communities.

In a recent turn of events, Chelsea’s court will now remain open with what the resolution described as “the installation of additional security equipment within the Chelsea Courthouse, to be funded through existing allocations to Facilities Management.”

Commissioner Jason Maciejewski, who represents Chelsea, most of Dexter, and other northwestern portions of the County, championed the idea of the new services center in the western part of Washtenaw County. According to the resolution “the Board of Commissioners directs that the Space Plan project include a Western County Service Center in its recommendations which would include space for Court and other county activities in addition to addressing the other principals and goals of that project.”

A location is yet to be selected and the specifics of what would be offered have yet to be nailed down. Court services are possible, but so are a variety of services between the County government and the public; but again, what specifically would be offered there is yet to be decided. Washtenaw County has hired a consultant to figure out what the community’s needs are and further approval for the new service center is expected to go back to the Board of Commissioners early next year.

Photo: Saline Courthouse (L) and Chelsea Courthouse (R). STN file photos.

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