Eddy County’s narrow approval of an estimated $2 million remodel of the Eddy County Court House for a new judge prompted calls for a new combined judicial complex.
Dec. 7 Eddy County Board of County Commissioners approved 3 to 2 a plan to reconfigure space at the County Courthouse.
“The Fifth Judicial District (Court) for Eddy County requires another judge to balance case loads consistent with other judges throughout the Fifth District,” wrote Eddy County Facilities Manager Brian Stephens in a memorandum to commissioners.
“An additional courtroom capable of hosting jury trials is necessary to accommodate an additional judge and requires phased construction,” he wrote.
Stephens said the County looked at preliminary designs to remodel the second floor and add a courtroom.
He said the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s office would move to the first floor of the courthouse in order make way for the new courtroom.
Work would be done in phases, according to Stephens.
“We’ve done the feasibility portion of this request and we believe that it can accomplished. But, at a cost,” said Eddy County Manager Allen Davis.
Nearly 100 years old, the Court House saw multiple renovations over the decades.
“Putting this money in the Court House now would kick the can down the road for a few years versus a new facility or different facility,” Davis said.
“It would take time to construct but it wouldn’t alleviate the need for additional adjudication right now.”
Stephens said Eddy County paid around $1 million a year for maintenance and operations at the courthouse.
“At some point we’re going to have to get realistic. We have a facility that is costing us a little over a $1 million a year to maintain,” said District 2 Commissioner Jon Henry.
“I don’t want the courthouse to go away. We’ve got to make sure we find a use and a good use for it. I’m also tired of band-aiding buildings that don’t work. If we become more efficient we would see a massive savings in the long run. That is directly passed on to everything else,” he said.
Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage said a new facility might also alleviate challenges of providing deputies for security at the Court House.
“If it was right across the street from me I would have a whole staff that’s always there during the daytime,” he said.
Cage said a combined judicial complex with the Sheriff’s office, courts and the Eddy County Detention Center might allow security partnerships between deputies and jail officers.
“We could help each other out. He’s (Warden Billy Massingill) isn’t going to need many people to do his job if he has a modern, well thought-out detention facility that is attached to the courthouse where my staff can help supplement what’s going on,” he said.
Cage said the Court House might serve Eddy County better if it was something else.
“A modern facility that works for everybody in the best interest. That’s what I’d prefer to see as a sheriff who is going to provide security and someone who interacts with the judge’s on a regular basis,” he said.
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at [email protected] or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.