Next week is important for Stanislaus County. Not because of anything happening here, but because the state's Court Facilities Working Group is expected to determine whether a new courthouse will be built in Modesto in the near future.
That new courthouse will replace the 50-year-old, insecure and unsafe facility whose latest sign of deterioration is a nonfunctional elevator the primary means of moving defendants quickly and safely to hearings and trials. This mechanical failure is disrupting not just inmates and sheriff's deputies escorting them, but also attorneys, judges, staff and the public.
Since 2008, additional fees have been levied on those who "use" the judicial system everyone from those issued speeding tickets or DUI charges to those convicted of violent crimes have paid. These fees were intended to rebuild and refurbish aging courthouses throughout the state.
Those funds some $300 million annually prompted the state to identify courthouses most in need. The Stanislaus courthouse, along with smaller courthouses in Los Banos and Sonora, were on that list. In all, there are 24 projects pending.
In the mangled heap that is the California economy, many pots of designated money are being reallocated, reassigned or simply raided. These courthouse funds even though they were designated for a specific purpose are not immune.
At the root of this particular crisis is a public-private partnership crafted to build a new courthouse in Long Beach. A private company built the facility and the state will lease it back for 35 years at $50 million per year. That leaves less money for the other courthouse projects.
When the partnership began despite expressed concerns from the Legislative Analyst's Office the "rent" for this new courthouse was supposed to come from the state's general fund. But those funds are no longer available. Now the state wants to pay Long Beach's rent with court funds needed in other communities, including ours.
While the Legislature is to be faulted for not living up to its pledge to pay rent in Long Beach, the Judicial Council also needs to look at the high price tags placed on many of its proposed courthouse projects.
Both parties need to get their respective fiscal houses in order and craft a strategy that will address the long-term needs of all Californians.
We're not prone to crying wolf, but we have to agree with retiring Superior Court administrator Mike Tozzi that the Modesto courthouse is slowly falling apart.