Judge: Court doesn't have to pay rent
In a letter Friday, the judge noted that state law requires cities to provide suitable accommodations for courts.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
GIRARD -- Municipal Judge Michael Bernard says the court is not required to pay rent to the city for use of the new justice center.
The judge's position was made public Friday when he released a May 29 letter he wrote to Mayor James Melfi.
The judge wrote that "the law does not support your landlord-tenant theory. If you disagree, have your attorney produce it."
The justice center was opened last year to house the court and its related offices and police headquarters.
Melfi has maintained the court should pay rent to the city based on the amount of space it uses to help pay the center's construction cost.
The mayor asserts that based on architectural drawings by MS Consultants of Youngstown, the court uses 47.9 percent of the space. The latest measurements by MS, however, put the percentage at 35.6 percent.
The consulting firm's recent measurements show the center contains a total 29,192 square feet with the court using 10,392, or 35.6 percent
Other area: Melfi said Friday that the court's space doesn't include the 5,648-square-foot basements, where the court stores records.
"They're just twisting it," Melfi said of the judge and the MS calculations.
Erroneous information was given to the press by Melfi, the judge countered.
Judge Bernard said in his letter that the city can't charge the court rent because state law says the city "shall provide suitable accommodations for the municipal court and its officers" along with supplies, furnishings and utilities.
"Be advised that no court in the state of Ohio is obligated to pay rent. It works the other way," he added.
Melfi countered that the old court facility was suitable and terms the justice center a financial "albatross" and provides the judge with "a great place to work."
The court has given the city $320,766 more than the city has given it during the past three years, the judge asserted.
Judge's agreement: Melfi maintains the judge agreed to pay half the cost of the $5.1 million center. Judge Bernard, who put the center cost at $4.5 million, has said previously that he will pay 35 percent of the cost.
Councilman Reynald Paolone, D-1st, chairman of council's finance committee, said Friday that he was at a meeting in which the judge committed to pay half the cost.
That's when the estimated cost was $3.5 million to $4 million, Paolone said, and the city agreed to pay 5.5 percent of its general fund, or $186,000 annually, as its share of the cost.
The cost of the justice center and who pays for it is an issue because it's estimated that the city will finish the year $1 million in debt.
Melfi said the city took on $10 million in long-term debt before he took office, including the purchase of Girard and Liberty lakes, underground utilities along U.S. Route 422 when it's widened and the justice center.
Melfi blames former city auditor Sam Lamancusa for not warning the city that it couldn't afford the center.
"The people must now shoulder the burden," Melfi said.