DHSS, Judicial branch outline capital requests for lawmakers
The Bond Bill committee heard from the Department of Health and Social Services about its role in Gov. John Carney’s efforts to improve access to clean water.
DHSS is looking for over $42 million in capital funding for building restoration, public health lab expansions and needed maintenance.
But $22 million of those funds would be included in Gov Carney’s effort to invest in clean water infrastructure as part of the department’s drinking water state revolving fund.
State Rep. Michael Ramone (R-Pike Creek Valley) argues the money is desperately needed. He says as he helps fill pools for his business, he’s noticed the water coming out of pipes is browner than ever across the state.
“And I look out there and say you know, we’ve had wetter seasons than ever in our lives — and this isn’t like well water or water pumped up just to fill pools, this is water that I think people are drinking,” Ramone said. “When you see our pools fill and how brown they are with the iron and all it’s very scary.”
DHSS staff say this funding would give them more flexibility than federal funds. Jamie Mack, head of Health Systems Protection says he usually gets around $11 million from the federal government for clean water projects, but there’s less discretion on where it can be spent.
In all, Carney is seeking $50 million for a clean water trust fund, with the other $28 million going to DNREC.
The future of remote working for state employees post-pandemic was also a topic of conversation at the Bond Bill committee hearing
DHSS Secretary Molly Magarik was asked about remote work, and says her team is looking at the possibility of transitioning employees to that permanently.
Magarik says it's very possible some DHSS staff could stay remote, and save the state money on office space.
But at the Judciary's hearing, Chief Justice Collins Seitz said his team already largely ruled out a shift to remote work for court staff.
“Even though in the business world, work from home works pretty well, from a judicial standpoint, we are a very human centered, touch centered to the population of the state of Delaware," said Seitz. "People need to come in and out of the courthouses.”
Seitz is seeking $39 million to build new office space in the old Customs House in Wilmington. He says the Leonard Williams Justice Center is running out of space and building an office would save the state spending to lease offices.
Seitz notes the courts are prepared to make some pandemic-inspired changes permanent to cut costs, such as using virtual hearings for inmates rather than bussing them across the state.
Seitz also highlighted $38 million for renovations to the Sussex County Courthouse, a full shift to an e-filing cases system, and repairs to the Williams Justice Center, which is now over 20 years old.
He also briefed lawmakers on the new family court facilities in Kent and Sussex counties. Schematics and floor plans are currently being finalized and the construction team is working on preparing the new sites for construction.
Seitz says the total cost for the new buildings is estimated to be around $105 million per facility. Seitz is asking lawmakers for an additional $50 million on top of the $50 million already recommended by the governor to help expedite this construction.
His ask was supported by some lawmakers, including State Sen. Colin Bonini (R- Dover South), who says they should give as much money as possible to speed up the process of building these new facilities.
Bonini says his fellow legislators have been putting off these new family court facilities for a while now, and it's high time they get done.