CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla.- Charlotte County leaders expect space to be a major issue in the justice center in the next several years, so they are trying to build a multimillion-dollar expansion.
Taxpayers who visit the Charlotte County Justice Center do not see an overcrowding problem now.
"I don't have any problem with the space," said Curtis Dudley, a Charlotte County resident.
People who work there every day, however, say the evidence is clear.
"We're functioning at full capacity. We're using all of our court rooms," said Jon Embury, operations manager at the justice center. "We're actually holding court inside conference rooms in some instances."
Embury said the problem could get worse.
A third-party firm commissioned by the county projects the population to grow almost 17 percent in Charlotte County by 2032.
The population growth could trigger a 43% boom in judicial filings and a 58 percent increase in staffing at the justice center, according to the projections.
"The further we dont take action, the more likely it is we would have to off-site some important arms to the judicial system," Embury said. For example, the Public Defender's Office, maybe even the State Attorney's Office."
A spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office confirmed to WINK News that its Charlotte County office is now functioning at full capacity, using what used to be file storage space as employee workspace.
Embury said relocating portions of the judicial system could cost untold millions.
"If you're taking about leasing out space for stakeholders, creating new infrastructures for the IT -- yeah, we could be talking some serious money," Embury said.
Relocating could cost more than the $36 million the county would like to set aside for an expansion.
The county and the courts want to pay for the expansion with a one-percent local option sales tax in Charlotte County.
The tax has been in effect since 1994, and voters will have to approve it again this November if they want to keep paying it. If they vote "yes," the judicial expansion would be a mandatory project.