Money squabble snags courthouse opening

SANTA FE (KRQE) — Four years and $65 million later, the Santa Fe Count Courthouse is expected to be complete by the end of the month but still not ready for use.

The courthouse needs another $800,000 to open its doors to the public, according to court administrators.

The State Board of Finance approved $250,000 in emergency funds Wednesday, but court officials said it's not nearly enough.

At issue is furniture. The courthouse sits empty while the state and Santa Fe County officials argue over who pays for the furniture, computers and other equipment.

"The county's view is very different from the executive's view on the county's obligation versus the state's obligation," said Director Arthur Pepin of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Pepin said the county asked the state for nearly $1.4 million earlier this year to pay for necessary equipment. The Legislature approved the capital-outlay funding, but the Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the appropriation saying the county should pay for it.

"There's ambiguity, and we've gone back and forth on it," said state Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford.

The state approved a $90,000 loan for building security this summer and then agreed to another $250,000 Wednesday.

"It's a shared responsibility, and that's what we've structured," said Clifford.

But Pepin said the courthouse is still about $400,000 away from a grand opening. The courts will ask the county for the money, he added.

But as of Wednesday, the "county has made no commitment to buy furniture," said Pepin.

County officials said they will discuss the measure at next week's County Commission meeting.

"All agencies involved want to see them move in, including the county," said County Manager Katherine Miller. "The County Commission and I are working with all parties involved on a resolution that would get the essential items necessary for employees to move in as soon as possible."

County Commissioner Liz Stefanics could not say how much money the county can offer but said the money will need to come from somewhere else in the budget.

If the courts can't come up with the funding, Pepin said the courts will ask the Legislature when it meets next month, further pushing the move-in date to the next state budget year.

"That means the court won't be able to move in until June of 2013," said Pepin.

If the courts have to wait to move in, taxpayers still have to pay for security and utilities for the building while it sits empty.

The furniture fiasco is the latest in a long string of problems for the courthouse. In 2009, investigative reporter Larry Barker revealed the county knowingly started construction over a site contaminated by gasoline. Cleaning it up cost millions and delayed the project two years.

Then this summer, vandals broke in and sprayed graffiti all over the building.

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New Mexico (change)

New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.
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