State opens round of grants for courthouses
The Colorado Judicial Department is starting its next round of grants to help poorer counties pay for needed repairs or maintenance of their courthouses, but area counties may have some difficulty getting much, if any of that money.
Under a law passed in 2014, the department has $2 million to give away next year as part of its Underfunded Courthouse Facility Grant program.
But only those counties that are the most financially strapped will see any money.
To qualify, a county needs to meet at least two of the following criteria: be below the state median for total population, per capita income or property tax revenues, or have more residents below the federal poverty line than the state median.
Counties that meet all four get the highest priority in receiving grants. While 41 meet at least two of those criteria — which includes Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties — the preponderance of the 20 that meet all four are located in the San Luis Valley and on the Eastern Plains. Garfield is the only county in the region that meets none of them.
Area counties that have been awarded grants since the grant program began include $75,000 to Ouray County and $14,500 to Delta County.
Next year’s grant application process, which started on Friday, can be for master planning services, or matching other money to address emergency needs due to the imminent closure of a courthouse.
Grants cannot be used to pay for such things as furniture, fixtures or equipment, and can’t be used as a sole source for new construction unless a courthouse would close otherwise.
As a result, the grant program isn’t an answer to county calls to change the way the state and the counties deal with courthouse funding.
By law, counties are responsible for building and maintaining courthouses and courthouse facilities, while the state furnishes those courthouses and pays salaries for court personnel.
While that’s been the case since statehood, some counties are trying to get the Colorado Legislature to change it.
An interim legislative committee is examining that issue along with jail overcrowding, and has heard from numerous county officials — including Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese — who want the state to take a greater role in paying courthouse expenses.
“Court costs and public safety is a statewide issue, it is a nonpartisan issue that affects all of us whether you are a small county, a rural county, a large county or an urban county,” she told the County Courthouse and County Jail Funding and Overcrowding Solutions Interim Study Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose. “Public safety is the proper role of government, and the courthouse funding specifically we believe as commissioners is the proper role of state government.”