The Oak Ridge City Council agreed on Monday to contribute $30,000 per year for five years to continue operating Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge.
The money will be used for court operations and capital costs for Anderson County General Sessions Court, Division II, in Oak Ridge.
Council approved the funding in a 6-0 vote, with Council member Hans Vogel absent.
The city and the Oak Ridge City Council have supporting having the General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge since it started in 1993, according to City Manager Mark Watson.
“We believe that it is important to have that here,” Watson said. “It does save us a little bit of time.”
He cited the traveling time that would be required to commute back and forth to Clinton, including for police officers who would have to drive back and forth if the court were to move there.
Many Oak Ridge cases are heard in the General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge. Other agencies use the courtroom as well, including Oliver Springs and Rocky Top, Watson said.
“We think it’s an important investment on the part of the city,” Watson said. “We’ve done this in the past.”
City Council members said having the court doesn’t just benefit the city, but it also benefits businesses and residents. The essential argument for keeping the court here seems to be that it saves the city and its businesses and residents time and money because they don’t have to drive back and forth to Clinton for some criminal and civil cases.
Watson said cases such as the felony cases and lawsuits and civil complaints heard in Anderson County criminal and chancery courts will still be heard in Clinton.
Anderson County commissioners have cited the expected Oak Ridge contribution in their discussions of keeping the General Sessions Court, Division II, in Oak Ridge and moving it from a private building on Bus Terminal Road to a county-owed building on Emory Valley Road, possibly sometime after June.
There hasn’t been unanimous support among county officials for keeping the Division II Court in Oak Ridge. Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank has said she doesn’t think it makes sense to have an Oak Ridge court, at least not in its current form. Frank cited county cost concerns, including the distance that must be traveled from Clinton to Oak Ridge, the additional court staff, and inmate transportation and security.
But those commissioners who discussed the Division II Court in March generally said they are in favor of keeping it in Oak Ridge, and they mostly seemed to favor moving to the county-owned building on Emory Valley Road.
Once housed at the Oak Ridge Municipal Building, the Anderson County General Sessions Court, Division II, has been on Bus Terminal Road since 2009. An 18-month lease at that building, which is owned by Vintage Development Corporation, expires in June.
It’s not clear if renovation work at the county-owned building on Emory Valley Road will be completed before the current lease on the Bus Terminal Road building expires, so commissioners have discussed renegotiating the lease on the Bus Terminal Road building in order to “buy time.”
The city’s contribution of $30,000 per year for five years will start with the Fiscal Year 2018 budget beginning July 1. It will continue through FY 2022. Payments will be made on October 1 each year, officials have said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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