Judicial project on indefinite hold
By Michael D. Bates | Hernando TodayBROOKSVILLE - For several years, the county has gone back and forth trying to find more space for the judiciary.
Published: December 13, 2012
Published: December 13, 2012
They even created a reserve fund to store up money for the day when it might be necessary to either seek space somewhere in the county or reconfigure the existing government center to create more courtroom space.
But commissioners Tuesday put on hold indefinitely any plans to do any redesign of the downtown facility until money becomes available or space needs get out of hand.
They have yet to decide what to do with the $700,000 that is left in the general fund reserve portion of the reserve and which is under the board's purview.
They were quick to say this was not meant to disrespect the judges who have been clamoring for more space to accommodate an increased workload.
Rather, it's about economics.
The county needs every penny it can salt away and now is not the time to start a major project to expand the judiciary, they said.
"It would be nice to do, but with this economy, no, I don't think so," County Commissioner Jim Adkins said.
Adkins said that money can sit there and draw interest.
In addition to the general fund money, there is $1.1 million set aside from impact fees, $3.2 million from a court improvement fund and $703,000 from a court-related technology fund, for a grand total of $5.7 million.
County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said when it became apparent that building a new judicial facility was not feasible, the idea was to remodel the old courthouse to house commissioners and other government offices and free up space at the new government complex for judges.
But budgetary shortfalls intervened.
Dukes said he soon realized when the county was in negotiations with a manufacturer at the airport, that the county would have to make available some economic incentives and a funding source was needed.
That necessitated taking $1.7 million from the fund, which might still have been enough to pay for a remodeling project.
"Then came the dredge" Dukes said.
Instead of using an alternate funding source, such as the sensitive lands fund, to pay for the dredge, the board decided to tap the judicial reserve yet again.
"There is no money left," Dukes said.
It is now at a point, he said, where the board has to figure out if it still wanted to do the judicial project, especially when there will be other demands heading into the next budget session.
It's time, he said, to "draw our line in the sand."
County Commissioner Dave Russell said the county needs to continue prioritizing capital projects and ascertain where the greatest needs are at this time.
In terms of future judicial space needs, Russell said, it may be possible to reimburse the reserve fund from money recouped if the county is successful in its ongoing dredge litigation.
Russell said it may also be possible to tap a second pot of money the county is expecting from the penalties imposed on British Petroleum after the oil rig spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I believe we have a method for funding our future needs and the recovery of dollars that we've spent," Russell said. "(But) now is now, and the need now is not more space."
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