Monday | December 18, 2017
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Legal pleading: Budget slashed for courthouse

The state Judiciary is getting 90 percent less funding for the Kona Judiciary Complex than it asked for this Legislative session.

A conference committee Tuesday evening cut the $45 million appropriation request down to $9 million, Rep. Karl Rhoads said Wednesday morning. That recommendation would still need to be approved as part of the current budget process.

The $45 million figure was half of what the Judiciary initially requested this year. Rhoads said the decrease shouldn’t be interpreted as an attempt to “kill” the judiciary project, however.

“The testimony of the Judiciary was that they won’t be able to start (construction) until September 2014,” Rhoads said. The conference committee adjusted the appropriation amount for that first year in an attempt to “get the timing right.”

He said a supplemental budget next Legislative session could end up adding more funding to the initial appropriation, or set aside more funding in subsequent years.

“It’s certainly not my intent to slow the project down,” Rhoads said.

Judiciary officials said the initial appropriation is enough to get started.

“Although we will not be able to proceed to soliciting bids for the construction until such time as the entire amount for the project is funded, the $9 million appropriated for the project represents a substantial commitment by the Legislature, and we will be seeking the additional $81 million for fiscal year 2015 during the next legislative session,” officials said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “In the interim, we will be completing the design and other work that will be necessary for the project to proceed along the planned-for time lines.”

The Judiciary intends to seek the remaining $81 million next Legislative session, officials said.

Construction wasn’t likely to start before fiscal year 2016, so getting a smaller funding increment first doesn’t push back the time line for the project.

“Land acquisition and planning and design work for the project are currently under way, and that work can continue for the immediate future,” officials said.

“Construction, however, would be dependent on receiving the additional $81 million for fiscal year 2015 during next legislative session. If the full $90 million is not appropriated within this biennium, then we will have to seek the construction funding during the fiscal years 2015-2017 biennium, which is likely to push back the construction timetable somewhat.”

West Hawaii Bar Association President Robert Borns said bar members are glad the project is moving ahead.

“The $9 million is going to be more than sufficient to get this thing shovel-ready and ready to break ground,” Borns said. “We want to keep this thing moving.”

Borns said the bar association plans to ask Judiciary officials to form a Kona Judiciary task force, to keep pushing for full funding and to prevent the project from stalling.

“Our intent is to keep asking for the rest of the money,” he said.

The proposed Kona Judiciary Complex will comprise 140,000 square feet and accommodate seven full-time judges, combining court services in West Hawaii which are now located at three separate courthouses. Each current site has limited parking and cramped waiting areas for defendants, witnesses, family members and court staff. Judiciary officials anticipate it will meet West Hawaii’s needs beyond 2030. Officials in late December hoped to open the facility in spring 2019 with construction commencing as early as March 2016 if funding is obtained.

The selected site, located at the southwest corner of Ane Keohokalole Highway and Kealakehe Parkway, near the West Hawaii Civic Center, is owned by the state.