Livingston Parish government probably won’t have enough money to do all of the inside finishing on the courthouse it’s planning, but should have enough to complete the space needed to get court operations under way, officials say.
Changes in the bond market mean the parish probably will be able to obtain only $15 million to $17 million from revenue bonds backed by increased court filing fees, Tom Sullivan, the Livingston Parish clerk of court, said Wednesday.
“We can’t build what we need to for that amount,” which is down from well above the $20 million that Sullivan said he had been expecting.
While the smaller amount of bond revenue won’t be enough to complete all of the interior of the planned 91,000-square-foot courthouse, Sullivan believes it will be enough to build the shell of a courthouse and to finish courtrooms as needed for court operations.
The other agencies that would like to move into the new courthouse may have to handle their own finishing costs, Sullivan said.
Chief Judge Bob Morrison of 21st Judicial District Court said the parish still needs a good cost estimate, but he thinks the parish will be able to finish the court’s part of the building along with the Clerk of Court’s Office.
The state Bond Commission has yet to approve the sale of the bonds needed to finance the courthouse project.
If the bonds won’t produce enough money to finish all of the parts of the building needed to make the court system function, it might be necessary to save up the money from the fees for a while before starting the project, Morrison said.
The Legislature has approved an increase in legal filing fees in the parish, effective Aug. 11.
The fees are scheduled to increase by $100 apiece for civil suits and by $20 each for deeds and mortgages, with those increases going toward building the new courthouse.
Sullivan said he hopes to see courthouse construction begin next year.
Meanwhile, work will move forward on a court annex, which is being built with dedicated funds, near the present courthouse, Sullivan said.
That annex should provide some interim help for the crowded parish courthouse and can still see service once the new courthouse is completed, Morrison said.
Morrison said the annex may serve as a juvenile court complex once the other courthouse operations move to a new courthouse.
Morrison for years has been a proponent of a new courthouse, citing problems with security, poor accommodations for jurors and the lack of space for witnesses and families at trials.
The current courthouse, which has a dozen entrances, “is practically impossible to secure in a realistic manner,” Morrison said.
Sullivan also has complained about the “maze” created in the current courthouse by the hodgepodge of additions made to the building during the parish’s rapid growth.
Asked what he suggests doing with the current courthouse when the new one is completed, Sullivan said he would advise bulldozing most of the building, which has been plagued by leaks, heating and cooling difficulties and an assortment of other problems.
“I would keep the historical part and tear the rest of it down because its is functionally obsolete,” Sullivan said.
The courthouse was built in 1941.
Ten years ago, six agencies that had offices in the courthouse put up $900,000 to purchase land for a new courthouse complex.
Since then, two governmental buildings have been constructed on that land.
Those buildings house the Livingston Parish Council chambers, offices of the council and its staff, the Parish President’s Office, Coroner’s Office, Office of Emergency Preparedness, permit offices and other operations.
The District Attorney’s Office, assessor and registrar of voters have moved to buildings out of the courthouse.
The Sheriff’s Office continues to operate out of the courthouse.