Homeland Security may fund security upgrade at courthouse|[6/09/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 9, 2005

If strict federal funding guidelines allow, Warren County may get some help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in paying for upgraded security at the courthouse.

Speaking at the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ informal meeting Wednesday, L.W. Callaway III, director of Warren County Emergency Management, said he has started checking into guidelines surrounding security funding.

The federal government will only earmark money for specific non-personnel matters, such as structural improvements and electronic equipment needed for law enforcement like metal detectors and doors, he said.

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If the request fits the criteria, it will be incorporated into the grant application for 2006 that Emergency Management will hand over to the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security July 1. If approved, the application goes to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The amount of the grant will not be known until the county’s eligibility for federal funds is determined, Callaway said.

“The issue of security affects each and every individual that works and passes through the courthouse doors every day,” Callaway said, reminding how the building’s unique position as a multifunctional courthouse makes it especially vulnerable.

“It’s not just people going in there to be in judicial court. People go in there to file homestead exemptions and get marriage licenses and things,” Callaway said.

Board President David McDonald said the county is “looking any place we can” to fund the needed security.

“Homeland Security is about the only place where there’s any money flowing right now,” McDonald said.

In addition to improving indoor security in the daytime, a string of eight auto burglaries reported in the last seven weeks in the courthouse parking lot has highlighted the need for more surveillance cameras.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Department oversees security of the building while the courts are in session, but does not provide any after-hours security.

After hearing a report from Building and Grounds Director Chuck Thornton, supervisors decided to call an emergency meeting for 9 a.m. Friday to deal with a broken air conditioning compressor at the Warren County Courthouse.

Thornton said the 100-ton-capacity compressor broke down Sunday and will need to be replaced.

The cost of the new unit will be $21,078 installed plus about $2,040 to rent a crane to remove the old compressor and place the new one on the roof of the courthouse.

Thornton said the situation is an emergency because there will be no air conditioning in the building if the other roof-top compressor malfunctions.