Starting Tuesday, the front door of the City Services Center will be an exit only, thanks to Georgia's new firearms carry law.
The law, House Bill 60, passed by the 2014 Georgia General Assembly, takes effect Tuesday. It allows gun owners with carry permits to bring their firearms into government buildings unless all of those who enter are screened. Up until now, only those entering the second-floor Columbus Council chambers during meetings were screened, even though firearms were banned from the entire building.
The cost to taxpayers to move the screening apparatus down to the main entrance will be about $120,000 this year, said Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin. About $84,000 of that will be an annually recurring expense for two additional reserve deputies to work the station full-time instead of only during council meetings.
"It's an unfunded mandate, but it's something that we needed to do," said Goodwin, the highest ranking city official in the new government building.
The option of keeping both the entrance on the back side, facing the parking garage, and the front, which faces the library, was cost prohibitive, Goodwin said. It would add at least another $84,000 for two more deputies and a one-time expense of $32,660 for an additional screening station, which includes an X-ray machine and metal detector, Goodwin said.
"We're in the process of putting signage in place on the front entrance side, alerting people to the new public access area," Goodwin said. "The equipment is already in place, ready to be activated Tuesday."
City Attorney Clifton Fay said the city had no choice but to move the screening station to an entrance and to staff it with certified law enforcement officers.
"If you want to enforce it, you have to have a post-certified officer at the ingress to the building," Fay said. "That was not the case until House Bill 60 (was enacted)."
Fay said the problems and expenses that Columbus is facing are being mirrored all around Georgia. "This is going on at courthouses and government buildings all over the state," Fay said. "They're having to decide whether they want to have the screening at certain facilities. Of course, in order to keep the weapons out, you have to have the screening. And if you want to enforce it as a misdemeanor, you have to have a post-certified officer."
Deputies screening citizens entering the building will block not only firearms, but also knives, box-cutters and other weapons, Goodwin said.