Lines to pay traffic tickets or file legal papers at Sonoma County’s Hall of Justice seem to get longer every day.
It’s partly a result of fiscal belt-tightening by the state Administrative Office of the Courts that has left 15 percent of vacant positions in Santa Rosa unfilled.
But there’s one thing court officials won’t cut — and the evidence is stacked in the hallways, right beside public drinking fountains.
Each year, the courts spend thousands of dollars on bottled water.
On a weekly basis, 5-gallon containers with the Alhambra label are delivered to court employees, who use it for drinking, making coffee and sharing with jurors, trial witnesses and bailiffs.
The empties are piled in the hallway, next to old fountains that dribble out water for other court visitors.
Last year, court officials spent more than $5,300 buying water. It’s a reduction from two years ago when bottled water cost more than $6,100.
Officials thought about cutting it from their $29 million budget but decided against it, partly because employees didn’t want to drink water that ran through old plumbing at the Hall of Justice.
“The water coming out of the pipes here is not great,” said Cindia Martinez, assistant executive officer of the courts. “Some staff screamed.”
Martinez said bottled water could go away with the construction of a new courthouse in a few years. A recently completed renovation of courthouse drinking fountains could also change habits.
The consumption of bottled water at the state-run courthouse is in contrast to the practice at nearby county offices. The county stopped buying bottled water about two years ago to cut down on use of plastic.