A planned expansion at the Allegan County Courthouse will help expedite court cases with the addition of a third 48th Circuit Court judge, create new private meeting rooms to improve client-attorney confidentiality, and provide better separation of jurors and litigants while entering the courtroom..
The county and state agreed. The volume of cases moving through the Allegan County Circuit Court necessitate a third judge to take on some of the workload.
The additional judge seat is included in the 2023 state budget and must be filled by December 31, 2024.
After several months of stakeholder meetings and discussions with courthouse leaders, the Allegan County Board of Commissioners earlier this year approved a $10 million improvement project at the courthouse.
To accommodate the increased level of service, Allegan County will construct a new courtroom and office space for the new judge, their support staff, and other court functions within the existing courthouse at 113 Chestnut St. in Allegan.
Last year, the county hired architectural and engineering firm Wightman to analyze the existing building and create a solution that would best use the space while making room for the new courtroom. After several months of stakeholder meetings and discussions with courthouse leaders, the Allegan County Board of Commissioners earlier this year approved a project budget of $10 million.
If the county had opted to construct a new courthouse to accommodate the third judge as well as all existing offices, the budget would cost significantly more, officials say, and would have lost the recent improvements made such as a new secure entrance, garage, sally port, and improvements to existing holding cells within the building.
The county’s 2021 strategic plan called to move any non-court-related functions to the County Services Building, 3283 122nd Ave., with the intent of developing courthouse space for court functions, making efficient use of available space, creating easier access to services for customers, and saving significant money over new construction.
The principle offices of the elected officials and a service hub will still be available in the courthouse, so the public won’t lose access to their elected officials such as the county register of deeds, drain commissioner, and treasurer. The county clerk also operates as the clerk of the Circuit Court and is expected to remain in the courthouse.
A new secure sally port is among the improvements already in place at the Allegan County Courthouse.
With service complexes at Dumont Lake, River Street, and in downtown Allegan, the Board of Commissioners decided building or buying another centralized county services building wouldn’t be a prudent use of taxpayer money. The county plans to house county services in space at the Dumont Lake complex being vacated by its mental health agency OnPoint, which is moving to a larger space at a vacant big box store on M-40. The Dumont Lake complex already houses the MSU extension service, Michigan Works, county health department, central dispatch and emergency operations offices, juvenile home, county animal shelter, the Board of Commissioners and all of its administrative offices, and the state’s health and human services agency.
By not increasing the number of overall government buildings and increasing the physical footprint of government offices, the county is saving money on operational expenses such as janitorial, electricity, snow plowing and other maintenance, says Allegan County Administrator Rob Sarro.
“The county has its eye on the bigger picture,” he says.
While the COVID-19 pandemic pushed Allegan courts to become more innovative and find new ways for people to access justice such as virtual hearings, jury trials and other processes often require participants’ physical presence.
That is what the expanded courtroom space is for.
For court and other matters that can be handled virtually, Allegan County has been making strides to digitize its services, so the public can access their county government 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere with an Internet connection. To that end, the county has committed $17.7 million in American Recovery Plan Act money to combine with grants and vendor capital for a total $70 million project to bring affordable broadband Internet service to homes and businesses across the county.
“We are looking at how can we avoid someone having to drive 30 miles to the courthouse if they don’t need to or want to,” says Dan Wedge, Allegan County executive director of service. “We are increasing access to service in very affordable ways to the citizens.”
Dan Wedge, executive director of services for Allegan County
The county has invested in electronic records and payment systems for land records and dog licenses, so citizens can access those records online. Even delinquent property taxes can be paid online for a small fee using electronic funds transfer.
“We aim to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and increase services at the same time,” Wedge says.
Those who have questions or who would like additional information, may contact Allegan County administration at 269-673-0239 or firstname.lastname@example.org