Special Reports

Projects selected in order of need

Each budget session, the Administrative Office of the Courts presents the General Assembly with a list of new justice centers to be built or old courthouses to be renovated. The projects are picked in order of need, according to a 1998 assessment of every courthouse in the state.

The construction budget is already set by the AOC, which oversees the operations of all courts in the state, under a series of strict requirements and guidelines.

For example, AOC guidelines decide how big every courtroom, office and lobby should be and set fees for how much it should cost to build them. Sizes are determined by complex calculations that take into account population projections and court docket sizes.

The General Assembly then approves a number of new projects and the funding for them. The number of projects depends on the money available. No projects were approved in 2002 and 2004, when no state budget was passed.

The approved county then floats bond issues for that amount. But the AOC, using taxpayer money, pays the annual debt service on those bonds. They call it a use allowance, but it's really more like rent.

The AOC pays the county rent for its employees to use the building, and that money is used to pay off the debt. When the debt is paid off, the county owns the building.

The AOC also pays for utilities and operations of the new building. The financing means that the debt goes to the county, not the state.

Design and construction are overseen by a local project development board, chaired by the county judge-executive or mayor. The other eight members are a member of fiscal court or city council, the most senior circuit and district court judges, the circuit court clerk, the AOC director or his designee, a citizen-at-large appointed by the AOC director, a designee of the executive director of the Kentucky Bar Association and AOC General Manager of Court Facilities Garlan VanHook or his designee.

VanHook has veto power over design or site selection. Projects in the planning stage also go before an AOC committee made up of state judicial officials and the chairs of the House and Senate judiciary committees.

New justice centers must have at least one circuit courtroom, a district courtroom and a family courtroom.