Inyo is among 17 counties to have state-funded courthouse projects green-lighted by a Court Facilities Working Group this month.
Before local court officials return to site selection and construction planning efforts for the bond-funded Bishop Courthouse, the CFWG’s recommendation must be approved by the State Judicial Council Oct. 26.
The CFWG spent more than two days last week hearing presentations from dozens of county court officials attempting to save their projects from the chopping block.
At the meeting, Presiding Judge Brian Lamb, along with Court Executive Officer Tammy Grimm, presented a new plan for the court construction project.
Details about the new pitch Lamb and Grimm delivered are not available as neither returned phone calls seeking comment as of press time Wednesday.
Ultimately, the working group recommended that 23 projects, including Inyo’s proposed $32.2 million, two-room Bishop Court Facility Project, move forward with a 10 percent reduction in funding.
“The 10 percent figure we think is readily achievable,” Lamb said in an interview with courthousenews.com. “It will not materially affect the functionality of our design in Bishop. But we will continue to advocate for two courtrooms.”
While Inyo County received good news about its proposed Bishop pro-ject, a smaller construction project for the county seat was previously defunded.
Just last month, state officials claimed approximately $1.5 million that Inyo County courts were holding in a maintenance account and had planned to use to construct a new court facility in Independence.
Elsewhere across the state, the CFWG decided seven new courthouse construction projects will be indefinitely delayed, and one project has been moved to a Trial Court Facility Modifications Working Group for consideration.
“Because of the deep cuts to the judicial branch budget – $544 million this last year – our working group was left with the deeply difficult and disappointing task of delaying necessary court construction projects that would have gone ahead under a better fiscal environment,” Justice Brad Hill, the chair of the CFWG, said in a press release. “I have to commend those courts that stepped up to the plate and made deep cuts in their own project budgets, and numerous other courts that have pledged to make significant additional cuts.”
After the judicial branch budget was slashed earlier this year, Justice Hill and the working group invited each of the 24 courts with one or more of the 31 projects to submit a proposal, demonstrating why each project should move forward with the branch’s limited funds. During the meeting, judges and court administrators making the presentations faced scrutiny from the working group.
“In the prior five years, we were working in a more perfect world,” Justice Hill explained to one group of court presenters. “The current state of economy and the reduction in the judicial branch budget, however, has turned that world upside down. Faced with a cataclysmic type of budget, we had to ask the tough questions.”
The list of projects that were funded will be posted on the CFWG website (www.courts.ca.gov ) for two weeks for public comment, and later this month the working group will meet to confirm final recommendations.
Once the Judicial Council reviews and either accepts or adjusts the CFWG recommendations, projects slated to move forward will be reviewed by a cost-reduction subcommittee chaired by Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson.
“Given the current economic environment, we remain ever vigilant stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” Johnson said in a press release. “I predict that those projects recommended for construction will face considerable reductions in size, scope and cost.”
Hill said all hope is not lost for the projects that did not receive a green light this week. “Since funding for court construction comes out of court user fees, we hope that next year the branch’s funds won’t be swept as they have been over the last two years, and that all courthouse projects, including those that have been delayed, will be able to move forward immediately and become a reality for the communities that so desperately need them,” he said.
Last week’s recommendation does not affect 17 other courthouse projects (eight in construction and nine in working drawings through different funding sources) already in the works.