News Column

Cumberland County seeks $150K for courtroom audio/video equipment

July 18, 2014

By Daniel Walmer, The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa.

July 18--CARLISLE -- Cumberland County Court Administrator Melissa Calvanelli announced Thursday plans to install an audio/video system this year in at least one county courtroom.

The county planned to install the equipment in Courtroom 3 this year, but Calvanelli said during the county commissioners workshop meeting Thursday morning that the county may want to consider installing it in neighboring Courtroom 2, as well, because it may receive a discount for doing both at the same time.

The project is estimated to cost $150,000 per courtroom without a discount, and the money would come from the county's general fund. The installation of audio equipment is more challenging and expensive but also more necessary in the county's older courtrooms, where it can be difficult for all in attendance to hear the proceedings, she said.

"There had never (previously) been a real acoustical analysis of the courthouse to make sure everybody hears what's going on," she said.

The video portion would provide modern equipment like DVD players -- court staff currently has to take mobile equipment from courtroom to courtroom as needed -- and would enable video conference capabilities, she said.

The county previously installed audio equipment in Courtroom 4 in 2010 and audio and video equipment in Courtroom 6 in 2011 and Courtroom 1 in 2013, she said.

From 2011 to 2013, the county is "conservatively" estimated to have saved $230,000 through video conferencing by limiting the sheriff's office's workload of transporting prisoners to the courthouse from long distances, she said. County judges are willing to use video conferencing for at least some relatively simple procedures such as arraignments, she said.

"It's really become much more cost-effective and time-effective to be able to do it this way," she said.

The Courtroom 3 improvement was not a general fund budget line item, but was anticipated in the budget to be a capital project occurring this year, she said. She asked the commissioners to authorize a request for proposals for Courtroom 3, and give contractors the option to name the cost savings they could achieve if they completed Courtroom 2 at the same time, she said.

Commissioner Jim Hertzler, however, signaled some reluctance to support funding both installations in the same year unless the savings are significant.

"You've heard the saying, 'I don't know if I can afford to have you save me anymore money,'" Hertzler said.

The county has been unable to find ways to reduce the general fund effect of the project, according to Calvanelli. Grants are not available for this equipment, and other means of improving sound quality in the courtrooms -- like adding sound-deadening panels or purchasing special ceiling sprays to reduce the echo -- would likely be even more expensive, she said.

The commissioners are expected to vote on authorizing the request for proposals for the project on Monday.


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Source: Sentinel, The (Carlisle, PA)

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