Cash-strapped North Las Vegas has been touting a $1.6 million savings by hiring bailiffs to secure the city’s municipal courts. The bailiffs, who will replace the marshals who currently handle court security, will cost the city $500,000.
But the marshals won’t be going anywhere.The idea behind the program is that the marshals will move out of the courtroom to pursue a backlog of roughly 33,000 warrants.
So where did the cost savings estimate come from?
City Manager Qiong Liu said the city looked at how they were changing from a court security program that cost about $2.1 million to one that cost $500,000. That doesn’t factor in that the city will still be paying for the marshals, who will just be devoting their attention elsewhere. Liu said she didn’t want the focus to be on savings and that the city doesn’t anticipate the move as being a revenue generator. She also said hiring the bailiffs for $500,000 won’t ultimately result in extra costs for the city because the $2.1 million it costs to staff the marshals — and more — will be made up by money gathered from warrants.
So what is the city actually saving?
North Las Vegas doesn’t know.
“A year from now we can give you the facts; we can tell you how much.” Liu said, noting that the city plans to do a financial assessment then.
The news release North Las Vegas sent out on Tuesday was titled: “Innovative Marshal Program Proposed for North Las Vegas, City to Save $1.6 Million Annually.” The announcement comes at a time when the city is trying to build a positive image inside and outside city hall. The city met Monday to go over a wide range of improvements, which included several initiatives under the banner of “culture change,” with one of the goals being to “promote (a) positive outlook.”
Liu was adamant that the intention isn’t for cost savings, but to have an important city function work better and cost savings shouldn’t be the focus.
In the press release though, savings were the focus, with Liu and Mayor John Lee giving quotes.
“This proposal not only saves the City of North Las Vegas more than $1.6 million annually, it drastically improves operational efficiency and increases public safety for our residents,” said Liu.
The mayor in the release heralded the $1.6 million savings as answering his call to tackle the city’s financial crisis.
“I am very excited about this proposal and thankful for staff’s efforts to answer my challenge for city hall to be better stewards of the public’s monies,” said Mayor John Lee. “It is great to see positive results from our efforts to become a more creative government engaged in pragmatic solutions.”
North Las Vegas police Sgt. Chrissie Coon said the police department is planning to absorb the financial costs of the marshals into its existing budget and the public will be saving on efficiency.
Marshals’ time is limited now by acting as court security. When a warrant needs to be handled, a patrol officer often must be called to fill in and sometimes they aren’t available, North Las Vegas Police Chief Joseph Chronister told the City Council on Wednesday night, where the bailiff program was unanimously approved. It’s a change that means the marshals will be working in the community six days a week for 19 hours a day versus four days a week for 10 hours.
Some council members expressed concerns that the move would result in jail crowding.
If someone can’t pay a fine associated with a warrant, they can be jailed, which costs the city money.
Chronister told the council his department is cognizant of crowding. Checking on a warrant won’t mean automatic jail time as that just isn’t the most efficient way to administer justice.
Coon said there are many reasons someone might be the subject of a warrant and the police department’s goal is accountability.
The best thing for the community could be having a marshal check in and give those named in warrants a new court date, not putting them in jail when they can’t pay up, Coon said.
Contact Bethany Barnes at email@example.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes.