DOVER — The Delaware Courts presented budget requests for the 2023 fiscal year at the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement’s public hearing on Tuesday.
The Judicial Branch was among the state agencies which outlined how the requested funds would be allocated for their respective capital improvement projects ahead of the introduction of the annual Bond Bill in June.
As a part of the Governor’s Recommended Budget, it was suggested that the Judicial Branch be allocated $80 million for Family Court facility projects, $12 million for Custom House renovations, $1 million for Minor Capital Improvement projects and $1,273,428 for renovations to the elevators at the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center in Wilmington.
The Delaware Courts’ request for the 2023 fiscal year was presented to the Bond Committee by Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. Aside from a difference in the amount of requested funds for the Custom House, the agency’s requested funds aligned with the GRB.
For FY 2023, the Judicial Branch requested $80 million for Family Court facility projects, $24 million for Custom House renovations and $1.5 million for MCI projects. The recommended funding to renovate the elevators at the Justice Center would no longer be needed, according to Chief Justice Seitz, who said the repairs would now be fully funded through the Office of Management and Budget.
For the Delaware Courts’ Family Court facility projects, the branch has been allocated $145.7 million since the 2016 fiscal year. The Judicial Branch has plans to construct two new Family Court facilities, one each in Kent and Sussex counties. Appropriated funds for these respective projects have been temporarily restricted as construction companies bid for each project.
The Judicial Branch estimates that the Kent County facility project will cost $122 million, while the Sussex County facility will cost an estimated $115 million.
Progress has already been made on both projects, according to Chief Justice Seitz. He said that the branch has secured the property for the Sussex facility, conducted soil investigations on the site and established development agreements consistent with Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control guidelines, as well as other strides.
“We’ve done a lot of the site work, and the rezoning and variances have been granted, our parking study has been completed, and we’re bidding the utility relocation bid package,” Chief Justice Seitz said.
“Knock on wood, but we’re looking at a groundbreaking this year.”
Additional funding for the project is expected to come as a result of the facility’s approval for the Brownfields designation. This designation provides grants and technical assistance to those who assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse contaminated properties.
The Delaware Courts expect bidding on demolition, sitework, foundations, steel and the parking garage to be completed in April, with an anticipated groundbreaking in June. Sitework is anticipated to begin in September with an estimated completion in the winter of 2024.
Chief Justice Seitz stated that the same progress is being made for the Kent County Family Court facility, though it is a few months behind the Sussex facility in the process. Property acquisitions and historic district and zoning approvals are expected to be completed in April, and the demolition and groundbreaking for the project is expected in September. After groundbreaking, sitework will commence with a target completion date of the spring of 2025.
The Delaware Courts’ Custom House project is well underway, according to Chief Justice Seitz, who said that structural analysis of the historic building in Wilmington is ongoing.
The Judicial Branch was allocated $15 million for the Custom House in 2022, and in 2023, the GRB requested an allocation of $12 million. Chief Justice Seitz said that since the Judicial Branch anticipates a request of $21.3 million next year, it may be a good time to grant the requested $24 million for the 2023 fiscal year.
“To the extent that the committee sees fit, to take care of an amount of this project early or grant additional funds that might be allocated to save funds at a later date, this would be a good year to top up these projects in excess of the governor’s recommended millions,” Chief Justice Seitz said.
The total cost of the Custom House project is an estimated $48.3 million. With progress on the project underway, the anticipated completion of the project is set for the fall of 2025.
The Delaware Courts have used additional funding to shore up other needs, such as maintenance and repair in the Justice Center. The Division of Facilities Management is purchasing roof anchors to aid in the center’s roof replacement, while the branch continues to use American Rescue Plan Act funds for projects such as their holding cell plumbing project.
Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, vice chair of the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement, supported the efforts to reinvest in the state buildings occupied by Delaware’s court system, especially because of the Judicial Branch’s commitment to using Delaware-based contractors for each of these projects.
“It’s very much appreciated that we are keeping these projects in the state of Delaware,” Sen. Poore said.
“You can see by the big picture, there’s going to be an added value into the cities of the beautification that this will bring.”
Other state agencies presented their budget requests Tuesday for the 2023 fiscal year, including the Department of Justice. Attorney General Kathy Jennings led the presentation on behalf of the DOJ, though the presentation included just one request.
Ms. Jennings stated that the DOJ provides outstanding value to Delaware taxpayers, returning $3 to every dollar requested in the agency’s annual budget. The DOJ completed settlements worth as high as $187 million in 2021, she said, and after settlements with companies like Johnson & Johnson, DuPont, McKinsey & Company, and others, that figure is expected to reach $237 million in 2022.
The DOJ will not see a dime of that money, according to Ms. Jennings, who said that is all the more reason the committee should accommodate their sole request.
For the 2023 fiscal year, the DOJ requested $400,000 to renovate the fourth floor of the department’s 900 King Street office in Wilmington. Ms. Jennings said that the DOJ intends on utilizing the funds to expand the usable space on the fourth floor, which houses the DOJ Victims Compensation Assistance Program, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Extradition Unit and the Division of Civil Rights & Public Trust.
The project would add eight offices needed to accommodate the growth of the DOJ’s Division of Civil Rights & Public Trust and, given the price, Sen. Poore said that the decision on the DOJ’s requested budget was quite easy.
“I appreciate all of your hard work,” Sen. Poore said. “This is probably the easiest request that we’ve had for the last two days.”
The Joint Committee on Capital Improvement will resume their public hearing sessions Wednesday, when agencies such as the Department of State and the Riverfront Development Corporation will outline their budget requests for the 2023 fiscal year.