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Two bills could fund justice center, but the specifics differ

Feb 18, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A bill that could help fund a new Riverton justice center passed the Wyoming Senate unanimously on Monday and reached the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The draft state budget in the House also provides money for court security but does so on different terms.

The Senate bill appropriates $10 million for improving security of state court facilities. The State Loan and Investment Board would administer grants and award them based on a ranking system following criteria set out in the bill. Counties would apply to SLIB for a grant and would have to match the money awarded dollar for dollar.

State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, helped draft the bill. He is the chairman of the joint Appropriations Committee, which sponsored the bill.

Fremont County Commissioner Travis Becker testified before the Senate in support of the courthouse security bill last week, he said at Tuesday's commission meeting.

The draft budget in the House sets out $6 million total for purchasing courthouse security equipment or building new court facilities, but only in Sweetwater and Fremont counties. Under the House bill also SLIB would administer the grants, evaluate applications based on specified criteria, and the counties would have to provide half of the funding for any project.

The House received the draft budget Monday and is considering it.

Fremont County Commissioners have been hoping for the state money to help them build a new Riverton justice center. Moves to build a new facility intensified after a bullet hole was found in July 2012 on the current courthouse's exterior. Large container boxes have been placed around the building as a shield against further gunshots.

The county applied for a SLIB grant last spring to cover half the cost of the project, then estimated to cost $5.2 million, but SLIB denied the request in June. Since then, design of the project started and stalled at times but has been moving forward since last fall.

Funding remained a concern, and Becker in December put forth the most concrete plan yet for how to fund the construction. His plan suggested the county borrow $1.8 million from its cash reserve, contribute land valued at $100,000, added the $379,000 the general fund is paying for architectural designs, and anticipated the rest coming from the state.