A state lawmaker says too much money is being spent on new courthouses, and he wants to bring more competition among builders to the nearly $1 billion construction program.
Rep. Jamie Comer, R-Tompkinsville, filed legislation this week that would require firms seeking to manage courthouse construction projects to bid competitively for the work.
House Bill 472 also would cap the amount of money construction managers can be paid at 5 percent of construction costs and would prohibit construction managers from bidding on construction subcontracts unless there were no other bidders.
"If the construction managers are bid out, it will save taxpayers money," Comer said.
The courthouse construction program, which has spent $880 million on 65 new courthouses around the state since 2000, has allowed a handful of firms to manage most of the projects.
Under the rules of the Administrative Office of the Courts, construction managers don't have to bid competitively because their fees are predetermined by the AOC. Instead, they present their qualifications to local project development boards made up of the county judge-executive and other county and judicial representatives, including one person from the AOC.
Generally, the firms with the most experience building courthouses continue to get the most work. Codell Construction of Winchester, for example, has managed more than 60 percent of the new courthouse construction.
Most construction managers now get paid about 6 percent of the total construction cost, AOC officials said, but fees can range from 3 percent to 7 percent of total costs.
Comer said he sponsored House Bill 472 after hearing complaints from some subcontractors seeking work on courthouse projects in his district, which includes Cumberland, Green, Metcalfe and Monroe counties. Comer said four courthouses have been built in the district.
Last fall, the AOC overruled a decision by a local project development board on the construction of the Monroe County Judicial Center. The construction manager, Alliance Construction, also was awarded the general trades contract because it appeared to have a lower bid than a competing firm. But according to AOC documents, different criteria were used to judge the two bids.
Ultimately, the AOC awarded the contract to Scott Murphy and Daniel LLC of Bowling Green.
AOC director Laurie Dudgeon said the agency is aware of Comer's bill but had no further comment.
Comer said he expects those in the construction industry to oppose the bill.
John Brazel, spokesman for Associated General Contractors, said his group had not taken a position on the bill, but "we'd be happy to work with the sponsor on it."
The measure was sent to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
In a series of stories on courthouse construction during the past two years, the Herald-Leader found that several construction management firms, including Codell and Alliance, had routinely failed to insure 100 percent of their work, even though such insurance is required by law.
The AOC performed an audit, and Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. forced the firms to fully insure their courthouse projects.
Minton asked lawmakers last week to boost the budget for the state's court system by 20 percent during the next two years, in part to make $28 million in debt payments on 38 judicial centers that will open from 2010 through 2012.