Opinion No. 2017-027

April 4, 2017

Corrections Fund – Security Systems – Municipal Courts – Morgan County

The City of Decatur may use corrections fund monies to purchase metal detectors, scanning equipment, and to pay officers and other related expenses to secure the Decatur City Hall building which houses the municipal court.


Dear Judge Cook:

This opinion of the Attorney General is issued in response to your request.

QUESTION

May corrections fund monies be used to pay for the costs of metal detectors, scanning equipment, officer pay and other related expenses to provide safety and protection by securing the Decatur City Hall building?

FACTS AND ANALYSIS

Section 11-47-7.1(a) of the Code of Alabama authorizes an individual municipality, or municipalities jointly, to levy and assess additional court costs and fees for cases filed in municipal court. Ala. Code § 11-47-7.1(a) (Supp. 2016). The additional court costs and fees are paid into a “corrections fund.” Id. Section 11-47-7.1(a) further provides that “[t]he affected governing body shall allocate the funds exclusively for the purchase of land for, and the construction, equipment, operation, and maintenance of, the municipal jail or jails, other correctional facilities, if any, any juvenile detention center, or any court complex. Id. (emphasis added).

Your request states that the City of Decatur would like to use correction funds to install metal detectors, scanning equipment, and to pay for scanning personnel and related expenses to secure against firearms and other weapons. The municipal court is located inside city hall, but not on the ground floor. You additionally state that it would be impractical to place the metal detectors and associated equipment on the court’s floor. Metal detectors and associated equipment, therefore, would be placed at the entrances to the building. You question whether corrections fund monies may be used to pay for security equipment and related expenses, and whether placing security equipment at the entrance of the building rather than on the court’s floor violates restrictions on the use of corrections fund monies.

The terms “operation” and “maintenance” are not defined by the statute, but this Office has previously stated that “[t]his statute authorizes expenditures for any item reasonably necessary for the operation or maintenance of the municipal jail or other correctional facility, juvenile detention center, or court complex.” Opinion to Honorable Robert B. Hezlep, Jr. Mayor, City of Branchville, dated June 13, 1996, A.G. No. 96-00236 at 3. This Office has also previously described operation expenses as “normal, helpful, or appropriate expenses incurred while running a business . . . such . . . as salaries and the cost of office machines, such as fax machines, computers, and typewriters or the like.” Opinion to Honorable William Dennis Schilling, Municipal Judge, City of Pleasant Grove, dated April 1, 2003, A.G. No. 2003-117 at 3.

Although the business analogy is generally useful for determining appropriate operation expenses, unlike most businesses, courts often require increased security due to the nature of cases and issues heard. For example, the Alabama Supreme Court, pursuant to Rule 37 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration, issued an Order in 1998 approving a trial court security plan “to prevent or control problems that might arise in courthouses, such as verbal abuse, disorderly conduct, physical violence, demonstrations, theft, fire, bomb threats, sabotage, prisoner escapes, kidnappings, assassinations, stalking, and hostage situations.” Trial Court Security Plan at 1. Accord, Ala. R. Jud. Admin. 37. Securing a courthouse with metal detectors, scanning equipment, and the payment of screening officers and related expenses are all “normal, helpful, or appropriate” expenses to incur and are reasonably necessary for the Municipal Court’s operations.

Occasionally, funds used for the operation and maintenance of a courthouse complex provide an incidental benefit to the municipality. This Office previously opined that a city hall auditorium that is used for municipal court could be renovated with corrections fund monies. Opinion to Honorable Pamela E. Nail, Municipal Judge, City of Hanceville, dated April 12, 2000, A.G. No. 2000-124. Likewise, because the town hall of the Town of Newton served as the municipal court, this Office stated that corrections fund monies could be used to remodel and refurbish the magistrate’s office in the town hall. Opinion to Honorable Mike Byrd, Mayor, Town of Newton, dated June 29, 2001, A.G. No. 2001-213. Thus, the City of Decatur Municipal Court is not prohibited from placing screening devices at the entrance to the Decatur City Hall building, even if it provides an incidental benefit to the municipality.

CONCLUSION

The City of Decatur may use corrections fund monies to purchase metal detectors, scanning equipment, and to pay officers and other related expenses to secure the Decatur City Hall building which houses the municipal court.

I hope this opinion answers your question. If this Office can be of further assistance, please contact Wes Shaw of my staff.

Sincerely,

STEVEN T. MARSHALL

Attorney General

By:

WARD BEESON, III

Chief, Opinions Section

 

STM/RWS/as

2310802/196717