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City looks at service centers as new home for POA hearings

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Some of the city’s municipal service centers could eventually hold provincial offenses hearings as the number of charges continue to jump.

The city is looking for alternative court room space from its current John Sopinka Courthouse location once its five-year lease ends August 2017.

The provincial government is looking to take over the city’s two full-time courtrooms, and one part-time courtroom because of their own increased demand. But the city’s provincial offenses administration which has become the third highest court in terms of charges in Ontario behind York and Toronto is also in demand for more courtroom space.

Wendy Mason, manager of provincial offences, said the city has toured the former Wentworth County Court House at 50 Main Street, and found the one courtroom still in place doesn’t have the proper security for the justice of the peace to hold provincial offenses hearings. The room now hosts regular Ontario Municipal Board hearings. The city in 2001 leased the building to McMaster University.

 Mason said the introduction of early resolution meetings by defendants has skyrocketed, forcing the city to use even more of its courtroom time at the Sopinka courthouse. The two courtrooms are used full time during the year, while the other courtroom is available 60 days annually.

“We need more courtroom space,” said Mason. “(Criminal courtrooms) also need more and they want ours.”

The city employs three full-time, and one part-time courtroom reporters. Councillors deferred last year adding an additional full-time courtroom reporter, but will be contemplating hiring one for the 2013 budget year.

Politicians last week approved a motion introduced by Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins to look at selling 50 Main Street East. Corporate Services General Manager Robert Rossini said staff is reviewing the options, including maybe relocating the POA hearings into the building.

“An assessment is being done,” he said.

Councillors, though, suggested  at their Dec. 10 audit and administration committee meeting using the Stoney Creek, Dundas, and Glanbrook municipal service centers as possible courtrooms.

“We need to find new facilities quickly,” said Clark. “We can’t wait until 2017.”

Glanbrook councillor Brenda Johnson said using the service centers, with its easy access to area residents and free parking makes sense.

“They serve the outlying areas,” said Johnson.

Hamiltonis one of the few Ontario municipalities that still use provincial courtrooms for POA hearings. Mason said Halton Region, Orangeville, and Simcoe have recently constructed facilities for their provincial offenses administrations.

“Most (municipalities) have their own sites,” she said.

The POA revenues are expected to exceed the 2012 budget projection of $7.1 million. So far, up to September the revenue was $5.9 million. In 2011, the net revenue was $6.7 million, while in 2010 it was $6.5 million. The nearly 11 per cent growth in charges is primary because of police being more active, said city staff.

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