Havre Daily News
Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson said Monday he was caught off guard when he learned that Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel had told City Council members the city will use county money to purchase equipment for City Court.
Anderson said he never agreed to allow the city to use about $8,200 of a U.S. Department of Justice grant, shared by Havre and Hill County, to purchase video arraignment equipment for the city.
“Before you go to the City Council and explain to them that you have an agreement, you ought to talk with the people who make the decisions at the county,” Anderson said he told Barthel in a conversation last week.
At a Nov. 7 meeting of the City Council's Finance Committee, Barthel said he had reached an agreement with county officials to use some of the county's portion of the grant to purchase the equipment for Havre. He asked for and received the City Council's permission to go ahead with the deal.
Video arraignment would help solve a staffing problem for the Police Department. In September, Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera informed Barthel that he would no longer allow county detention officers to be used for security during arraignments of city prisoners in a courtroom at the Hill County Detention Center. The Police Department has since transported city prisoners from the jail to the City Court for arraignments.
Connecting City Court and the county jail via video arraignment equipment would allow the Police Department to save the time and money involved in transporting prisoners and alleviate safety concerns at the City Court.
Barthel could not be reached for comment today. He previously declined to say which county officials gave the city permission to use the money.
The minutes from a March 24 meeting of the city's Finance Committee show that the county's half of the $49,000 grant was going to be used to purchase video arraignment equipment for the county courthouse and county jail, which could be used by the city judge and city attorney.
That offer still stands, Anderson said today. The city judge's use of the system, set up in state District Court, would be subject to the court's schedule, he added.
The county ended up not spending its half of the grant because Blaine County used other grant money to purchase the equipment for Hill County.
Hill County juvenile detainees are held at a facility in Blaine County, and Blaine County adult prisoners are held at the Hill County jail. The equipment alleviates the need to transport prisoners to and from court.
Anderson said Barthel told him last week that he thought he had an agreement with Szudera to use some of the county's portion of the grant. Anderson said he told Barthel to speak with the County Commission in the future when trying to negotiate such agreements.
Szudera said Monday he has never reached an agreement with Barthel, but had discussed the issue with him and told him to write up a proposal. Szudera said he never received anything in writing.
The Hill County Commission plans to use its share of the grant - about $24,000 - to purchase radios for the Northern Tier Interoperability Project, a program that will allow law enforcement agencies across northern Montana to communicate with each other via digital radio.
The cost of getting those radios into every police and sheriff's cruiser, and in the hands of every officer and deputy, will cost about $200,000, Hill County Undersheriff Don Brostrom said today. The Local Emergency Planning Committee recently approved using about $130,000 in federal funds to purchase some of the equipment.