BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DES MOINES – With a new budget de-appropration bill passed out of the senate, a threat to Lee County’s courthouses has been drastically reduced.
The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 2117 on Feb. 8, which reduced state de-appropriations by close to $19 million and now lists cuts of just under $32 million in the current fiscal year.
As part of the revised Senate bill, cuts to the Judicial branch have been trimmed to $1.6 million from $4.8 million in the original de-appropriation bill.
According to a memo from State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio dated Feb. 16 he didn’t see closures happening with the new levels. The $1.6 million cut is what Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended and, with all the parties on the same page, that number could hold.
“However, the deal is still not done,” Nuccio wrote in his memo. “There are still negotiations taking place on other issues. Until those matters are settled, we are in a wait-and-see mode. If the $1.6 MM sticks, we will not need to do any layoffs or eliminate court services at the local level. We have been holding positions open throughout the year and have accumulated enough lapsed salary to cover this amount.”
Steve Davis, the state courts communications officer said a judicial branch will be presenting to a subcommittee on appropriations for the judicial system on Wednesday regarding the de-appropriation even at the reduced level, as well as the fiscal 2019 budget. He said a question and answer session for reporters will follow that subcommittee presentation.
In a memo dated Jan. 25, Nuccio put Lee County squarely in the cross-hairs of losing a courthouse when he indicated a $4.8 million defunding of the system, courthouses in 30 counties would be facing closure. Lee County is the only state in Iowa with dual county seats and courthouses.
Other large funding cuts in the new bill include $14.5 million to the Board of Regents. The University of Northern Iowa, for the time being, is being left out of the cuts. Community colleges are looking now at $1.8 million in cuts, the Department of Corrections – $3.4 million and $6.2 million for the Department of Human Services.
Highlights of amendments put on the bill in the House on Feb. 14 included reducing the Board of Regents de-appropriation to just $8.1 million, $4.3 million for DHS, and $500,000 for state community colleges.
The House review of the bill hasn’t been taken up since Feb. 15 when it was placed on the calendar listed as unfinished business.