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UPDATE: Courthouse closure will save more than $70,000

The Cottage Grove Courthouse will close July 1 due to a tightening judicial branch budget, said Washington County Court Administrator Christina Volkers.

After that, all of the hearings and other Washington County District Court business that took place in Cottage Grove will move to the county government center in Stillwater. An addition is being built in Stillwater to handle the extra load, but that won't be done until 2009. In the meantime, Volkers said, "We're not quite sure how we're going to fit everything in."

To help lighten the load on its facility, the county will take court dates off of citations, she said. That means to contest a traffic ticket, residents will have to go to a hearing officer. Civil and conciliation cases, and possibly family cases will also be delayed significantly, she said.

"Anything we don't have to do right now, anything that's not time-sensitive, we will be putting off," she said.

The judicial branch should save more than $70,000 due to the added efficiency of having court operations in one place. Decisions about layoffs will likely be made in the coming months, she said.

Having more of the Washington County District Court operations in one location might be more efficient for court staff, but it won't be for Cottage Grove police officers.

Cottage Grove director of public safety Craig Woolery said he's known for years that the Cottage Grove Courthouse would eventually close, but he learned about a month ago that it would be closing July 1.

"It means increased travel time, more time in court, longer delays in court," which all amounts to increased labor costs for the Cottage Grove Police Department, Woolery said.

"Overall, it's frustrating."

Woolery said when officers appear in court, it's typically on contractual overtime that is separate from the time they're on duty.

On the bright side, Woolery said the hours for a court hearing officer based at the Cottage Grove Armory building will increase after the closure.

Starting around April 1, the counter and phones at the Cottage Grove Courthouse (located in the Cottage Grove Armory building) will be closed for customer service on Tuesday mornings.

The decision to eventually close the Cottage Grove courthouse was made years ago, but the plan had originally been to do it at the end of 2009, Volkers said.

She said the decision to close sooner was based on cuts the state Legislature approved last year for fiscal year 2008 more than the next round of cuts being discussed now due to the latest dreary budget forecast.

Patricia Drey Busse can be reached at editor@swcbulletin.com.

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