Commission backs Rouse Justice Center plans

With tales of an overflowing evidence room and a meeting room that’s also used to process evidence such as soiled clothing, Bozeman police made their case Monday night for a new city law and justice center.

“You have the complete support of rank and file of the police department,” officer Joe Swanson told Bozeman City Commissioners.

Bozeman Police Chief Ron Price said if anything speaks to the department’s need for more room, it’s that stuffed evidence room.

Price showed commissioners a photo of the room with manila envelopes and boxes jammed on shelves. He also showed them photos of overcrowded work stations and the current Law and Justice Center’s only conference room where officers sit on cabinets during two-hour meetings, the same room where the domestic violence task force meets and where evidence is processed.

Not only is there a lack of privacy in many areas of the current building police share with county sheriff’s deputies on 16th Avenue, but there is also the inability to process and store evidence properly.

Municipal Judge Karl Seel shared his own problems with the commission: a jury room that’s also used as an employee break room, private meetings taking place in hallways and people who have been remanded to the jail waiting in the courtroom because there are no holding facilities.

“There’s nothing that prevents them from (walking out of the courtroom) because we have no room to keep them contained until officers arrive,” Seel said.

The solution, according to Price, Seel and others who spoke Monday night, is a new $23.8 million municipal courts and police campus planned along Rouse Avenue. The plan calls for the city moving its police, courts and related services out of the facility it currently shares with the county and moving them into their own building.

After 3.5 hours of presentations and discussion, city commissioners said they support the project, currently being referred to as the Rouse Justice Center.

“We have a top notch police force that works under the worst conditions,” Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor said.

Mayor Jeff Krauss called it a “superior solution” and said such a facility should have already been built by the city.

While it is a lot of money, Krauss said he doesn’t see how the plan can be scaled back without operations being affected.

“We know this $23.8 million is not a donated sum from a wealthy alum,” Krauss said. “This is coming from the citizens of Bozeman. This is coming from poor people and rich people and middle class people.”

The commission will address plans for the new building again next week when it discusses asking voters for a sale of bonds to finance construction and a mill levy increase to pay for ongoing operations.

If voters approve financing up to $23.8 million, it could mean an estimated cost of $72 per year for a

typical residential property owner, Finance Director Anna Rosenberry said.

The levy of up to five mills, totaling about $450,000, would pay for added costs the city will face if it splits from the county. Additions of staffing and other needs in four areas – records and reception staff, evidence functions, utility costs, and custodial and grounds maintenance – will account for higher operating costs. Those added costs are expected to total between $293,000 and $457,000. The city currently pays the county $145,000 for these services.

If all goes as planned, the new city justice center could open by fall 2016.

North Park sale

In other business, the City Commission cast the final vote to sell North Park.

The commission agreed to sell the property to Micropolitan Enterprises and Powder River Co. for $1.5 million.

Plans for the land, located west of North Seventh Avenue between Interstate 90 and the railroad, include using it as incubator spaces and a place for manufacturing and industrial tenants that have outgrown their current locations.

The city paid $3 million in 2003 to buy the property for a garbage transfer station that was never built. Over the years, the city has spent about $5.25 million on North Park, including the purchase price and a $2 million court settlement for undermining a local developer’s plan to buy the land.

Erin Schattauer can be reached at 582-2628 or eschattauer@dailychronicle.com.

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