By T.J. Pyette
The Havre City Council's Finance Committee tentatively agreed to purchase a new computer system for the City Court, but said it doesn't have the money to hire the additional staff Judge Joyce Perszyk asked for.
The Finance Committee tried to find an answer for Perszyk's workload woes Monday night, as members agreed they could put up some city funds to purchase a new computer system.
The issue was tabled after Perszyk, who had asked for the meeting, said she wasn't sure how much she would need from the city for the computers.
Perszyk told the committee the court needs an updated, three-computer system since the new court software issued by the state Supreme Court cannot run on the city's current system. Perszyk said the court's current system also has limited memory and is experiencing difficulties with the amount of information being input.
Perszyk told committee members that, at their earlier suggestion, she had asked Bear Paw Development Corp. to try to find a grant that would pay for the computers as well as another office staff position. Additional staff is necessary, Perszyk said, as the court's caseload has nearly doubled in the past six years.
Paul Tuss of Bear Paw Development Corp. told Perszyk she needed to get a formal letter from the City Council, signed by the mayor, detailing the court's budget and asking for help in finding a grant, Perszyk said.
Committee chair Tom Farnham said he would follow up with the letter for Bear Paw, but he said he thinks the city should go ahead and pay for the court's new computers since the grant process takes too much time.
"You're looking at a two-year process before you see any money," Farnham said. "By that time, this computer system is obsolete and you need a different one."
Perszyk presented the committee with a letter from the state and estimated the total cost of the new system to be $13,260. The system, which was last upgraded by the state in 1998, includes two computer workstations, a printer and a server.
The letter said the state, which had previously paid for court upgrades with funds raised by a ticket surcharge, now needs courts to come up with matching funds for the new system.
The Finance Committee members agreed that the matching funds could come out of the city's technology fund, which consists of monthly income from the leasing of city land to Triangle Telephone Cooperative for its tower near the Legion Field. The fund has been set aside for upgrading city computers as necessary, and now holds about $18,000, Farnham said.
"How much is the match?" committee member Jack Brandon asked Perszyk.
"Well, I assume it's dollar for dollar," Perszyk said. She added that the letter did not specify and she had not found out.
City Council president Rick Pierson told the committee that Perszyk needs to find out exactly what the match is because matching funds are not always 50 percent.
"It could be 20 percent, or 30," Pierson added. "Find out what it is before (the committee members) decide how much to commit."
Brandon suggested that Perszyk also find out if there is any way the court could share the server used by the Police Department, rather than buy its own.
In addition, Perszyk said, she needs to make sure that she can get on the state's list for installing the software before the new hardware is outdated.
"They're really backed up," she said.
Farnham said the committee will meet again when Perszyk has finished researching the issue.
Perszyk told the committee that upgrading the computers alone will not solve the City Court's workload problem.
"We still are limited as to the number of minutes, hours and days we have available," Perszyk said. She said an antiquated filing system, the court's reliance on volunteer help, and a prosecutor the city only pays to work part time all add to the difficulty of keeping up with the caseload.