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Justice center money included in budget passed by Legislature

Mar 5, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

One bill allocating state money for courthouse security died in the state House of Representatives on Monday, but the Legislature's approved budget set aside funds for that purpose under different legislation.

Both houses of the Legislature passed the final budget March 3. It awaits Gov. Matt Mead's signature.

It sets aside $6 million to build or modify courthouse facilities, but only projects in Fremont and Sweetwater counties would be eligible.

Fremont County Commissioners had been hoping the Legislature would help the county build a new Riverton justice center. The most recent plans from the Commission anticipated the state would pay half of the $4.9 million project.

The provided funding should be enough for Fremont County to afford a new Riverton justice center, Fremont County Commissioner Travis Becker said. Becker has led planning of the project.

The budget act states that the State Loan and Investment Board would administer the funds. Both counties would have to make an application to SLIB, and the state funds could only cover half of the project.

"With that 50 percent match, we should be able to fund this without an issue," Becker said.

The bill that died did so when the House failed to take it up by Monday, the deadline to start debate on bills this year. The Senate passed the drafted legislation Feb. 17. It would have allocated $10 million for courthouse security, but all Wyoming counties would have been eligible.

Though Becker thinks the approved budget would provide enough money for Fremont County, he thought the failed bill, Senate file 14, also had strengths.

"SF14 was trying to take a more holistic view of court security around the state and trying to set up a mechanism for other counties to apply for funding up to $10 million," he said. "I know Fremont and Sweetwater (counties) are not the only ones who have court security issues."

Reilly Johnson Architecture is preparing final design documents for a new Riverton justice center. Concerns about the current Riverton courthouse's security arose in July 2012 after a bullet was found to have penetrated the current courthouse's exterior at the facility on South Federal Boulevard in Riverton.

Commissioners have said the facility is too small and inadequate, and the county began planning for a new justice center in 2008.