BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A move to cut $4.8 million from the Iowa Judicial Branch in fiscal year 2018 could cut potentially cut a courthouse from Lee County.
In a document obtained by Pen City Current, signed by State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio, Senate Study Bill 3089 calls for a reduction in the state’s judicial budget. The state is looking to cut $50 million in this fiscal year.
Nuccio writes in the letter dated Jan. 25, 2018, 96% of the state’s judicial branch budget is made up of personnel costs and options are limited in where the cuts can be made.
“Should the $4.8 MM cut come to reality, we are left with no other choice than to close courthouses and eliminate personnel branch-wide,” Nuccio wrote. “As such we are projecting the closure of over 30 county courthouses proportionately distributed across our eight judicial districts. The courthouses selected for closure within each judicial district will be determined by caseload volume in each county. The workload of the closed courthouses will then be shifted to other county courthouses in that judicial district. The exact re-distribution will be determined in consultation with court and county officials at the local level. The period of closure will be indefinite.”
Nuccio continued to write that a lot could change as the bill makes its way through the legislature and final numbers will determine what steps the judicial branch takes.
Lee County has two county courthouses and the south courthouse is getting close to finishing an overhaul including a new roof, tuck pointing, and interior and exterior repairs. The price tag to date on the south project is just over $750,000.
The judicial branch absorbed a $3 million de-appropriation last year as part of a budget shortfall. The total amount of the proposed reduction to the justice system is $7.7 million. The $4.8 would be aimed at the judicial branch.
Other reductions, or de-appropriations, called for in the budget include close to $19 million combined to University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, and Iowa State University and $5.4 million to the state community colleges, including Southeastern Community College. There is also a call for a $5.4 million reduction to the Department of Corrections, which would include the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.
The bill is still in committee and has to work its way through committees and the full senate and house before landing on Gov. Kim Reynold’s desk.