Politics & Government

State cuts money to keep courthouses clean, causing concern in Fayette and 19 other counties

Kevin White fixed a toilet at the Fayette Circuit Courthouse on Friday.
Kevin White fixed a toilet at the Fayette Circuit Courthouse on Friday. Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — The state courts system has cut the amount of money it is paying Lexington and 19 other local governments to keep courthouses clean and maintained, causing concern among some county officials.

The move will save the state Administrative Office of the Courts an estimated $864,200 a year, but some local officials say the move caught them off guard and has created budget concerns.

Under the new state reimbursement rate, Fayette County will get about $136,000 less each year from the state, said Brenna Angel, a spokeswoman for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

"AOC is tightening the screws on us," said Geoff Reed, commissioner of general services for LFUCG. "We are going to have to explore options to deal with less money to keep our courthouse facilities cleaned and maintained."

Reed said the Urban County Council's General Government Committee will discuss the impact of the AOC reimbursement change at an Aug. 26 meeting.

"We can handle this fiscal year, but the city will have to decide how it's going to pick up extra costs in the future," he said. "We would renegotiate our contract, I guess. But we first want to talk to AOC and get clarification on how they could help us."

The AOC, which supports court facilities and programs in all 120 counties, on July 1 standardized its reimbursement rates to counties to pay for janitorial and maintenance services for their courthouses.

The courts office capped its reimbursement rate at $4 per square foot, which means less money for 20 counties.

In fiscal year 2013 — July 2012 through June 2013 — costs for contracted janitorial and maintenance services for the Fayette County Courthouse complex on North Limestone totaled about $1.03 million.

The state AOC reimbursed the county about $964,000 for those costs, or $4.66 per square foot.

Under the new reimbursement rate, Lexington will get $827,963.

Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said judge-executives in the 20 affected counties were notified April 8 about the new reimbursement cap.

AOC director Laurie Dudgeon informed the county officials in a letter that the reimbursement rate was being standardized to save costs for the AOC, make reimbursements fair and equitable statewide and set standards in the quality of janitorial and maintenance services provided statewide.

Dudgeon said the AOC has an obligation to spend taxpayers' money wisely, arguing that the $4 cap is "adequate to maintain and clean these facilities at a high level for the elected officials, employees and citizens who conduct business in our court buildings."

Hiatt said the AOC advised the affected counties "that we are not asking them to absorb any costs associated with this reduction."

Instead, the AOC urged the counties to negotiate new contracts using standardized cleaning and maintenance schedules. She said the AOC also offered to take over contract negotiations if the counties are concerned they cannot provide the services within the new cap.

She noted that Fayette County was contracting with Meridian Management Services at $4.66 per square foot for 221,380 square feet while Kenton County was paying the same company $3.99 per square foot for 110,700 square feet.

In Rockcastle County, which expects about $52,000 less from the AOC this year, the current plan is to absorb the reduction, said Judge-Executive Buzz Carloftis.

"We don't like it but we have to keep our courthouse cleaned and the air conditioning and heating working," Carloftis said. "There's not much you can do when someone tells you you are going to get less money."

The hit for Woodford County, which uses its own cleaning and maintenance staff, is about $21,000 a year.

"No one likes a cut but, for now, we're just going to absorb it in our budget," said Woodford County Judge-Executive John E. Coyle.

State Rep. Bob Damron, a Nicholasville Democrat who is running this fall for Jessamine County judge-executive, said he expects janitorial and maintenance costs are more expensive for older courthouses.

"We have a facility where the floor is falling in on the annex, and we're trying to decide where to send the clerk," he said.

"It seems the AOC is not that concerned about its facilities," Damron said. "I want to know what they are doing with the extra money they are getting by cutting reimbursements to counties. Nobody knows the answer because they are not subject to being audited by the state auditor."

Hiatt said cutting the reimbursement rate is "one of many actions the judicial branch has taken to maintain a balanced budget in light of a $28 million shortfall."