Tensions flared during Wednesday’s Bond Bill committee as lawmakers debated using surplus funds to boost some capital projects.
State lawmakers looked at project requests Wednesday, including investing heavily into building upgrades and renovations.
Among the proposals is pumping an extra $81 million into the new Kent and Sussex County Family Court buildings, on top of the $50 million in Gov. Carney’s recommended budget.
State Rep. Michael Ramone (R-Pike Creek) recognized the need for these new court facilities, but argued the state’s surplus should go back into the hands of Delawareans.
Bond Bill committee co-chair Nicole Poore (D-New Castle) countered this is an opportunity for the state to finally catch up on much needed upgrades and repairs that have long been deferred.
“When you’re saying that we’re not giving back, I’m gonna disagree with you — we are giving back more than we’ve ever been able to,” she said. “And maybe not at the $100 return that you’re looking for. When you're looking at some of the other things that the capital improvements that we’re gonna do throughout the state is actually a give back.”
The extra funding for the Family Court facilities will allow the Kent county project to start while the Sussex county building is still under construction, speeding up the timeline for completing both.
The new Sussex County Family Court project is expected to break ground this summer.
Another proposed project is adding $15 million to jump start the renovations to the Wilmington Customs House for new judicial offices.
Poore says moving state employees out of leased spaces is a priority, adding the judiciary is currently spending $800,000 a year to rent office space in a Wilmington high rise.
“That is money that our judicial system could absorb into their budget and we would have less money to have to put out,” Poore said. “So yes we are putting this one time money out to get this project started, but ultimately we’re gonna be on the hook anyway because in 2025 that lease is up, no different than the kid’s department.”
The state bought the old Customs House in 2018, but it’s been sitting vacant since then, waiting for funding to build out office space.
This funding would take the building halfway towards it’s renovation goals. The judicial branch will need another $24 million to move the community courtrooms into the Customs House and connect the building with the existing courthouse next door.
Committee members will now review the capital proposals presented with their caucuses before reconvening to determine which to fund.
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.