Sonora, CA — When construction will begin on a new Tuolumne County Courthouse is unknown.
The $65-million project was anticipated to break ground within the next year, but the construction could be put on hold unless the state legislature soon comes up with more funding. Tuolumne is one of several counties that could see delays. Part of the reason is that over a billion dollars was redirected from a court construction fund during the recession, and it has not been restored.
Tuolumne County Superior Court Presiding Judge Donald Segerstrom spoke before a Judicial Council Advisory committee in San Francisco yesterday….stating his case for moving the local project forward. Speaking about the current courthouse, he said, “It’s still in operation and it was built in 1898. It is a beautiful building, but it is antiquated…there is just no way around it. My courtroom is on the third floor and in contradistinction to some of the other courts…we don’t have an elevator.”
Funding for new courthouses is coming from Senate Bill 1407. Prior to yesterday’s meeting, chairman of the Court Facilities Advisory Committee, Judge Brad Hill, sent a letter to several counties explaining the issue at hand. It reads, “As I have previously noted, to help address the state’s general fund deficit, the Legislature redirected, borrowed, shifted, and transferred approximately $1.4 billion from just the Immediate and Critical Needs Account, with that number growing to $4 billion under current law. Of the approximately $250 million annual revenue in our construction account, $110 million (almost 45 percent) has been permanently redirected to other purposes that were never part of the original plan to replace the most immediate and critical courthouses.”
The letter goes on to lay out financial limitations, saying, “At the same time, a decrease in court filings and a decrease in fines and fees-as well as the ongoing traffic amnesty program-has led to a dramatic decline of revenue through the state. Many local and state programs-not just trial court operations and our construction fund-are dependent on the fines and fees revenue stream.”
Final plans and documents will still be completed for the Tuolumne County facility, but when construction will start could be delayed indefinitely. The project is to be constructed at the law and justice center property off Old Wards Ferry Road.
Yesterday’s hearing in San Francisco was webcast across the state and archived so that lawmakers could hear about the urgent need for new courthouses. Representatives for 16 court projects going through the review process were invited to deliver remarks.