BY STEFANIE MILLER AND GAIL P. MONTANY Staff Writers
A legislative conference committee agreed Thursday to appropriate $3.9 million for the long-awaited expansion of the Caledonia County Courthouse.
The committee, composed of three House members and three Senate members, is chaired by Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans. It is working to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the 1999 capital construction bill.
According to Illuzzi, the House recommended $3.8 million for the project to the Senate's $4 million recommendation.
Since 1992, about $1.7 million have been appropriated for the $5.6 million project.
Full-scale courthouse construction is expected to begin this summer. A construction manager has been hired and preliminary site work started this winter.
The bill will be signed into law when the capital construction bill is signed into law.
Sen. Julius Canns, R-Caledonia, of the Senate Institutions Committee, said he was pleased with the appropriation, but that he had put in for roughly $200,000 more.
"I had fought for this all along," he said. "I wanted money put back in for things that had been removed, such as a fourth courtroom."
The fourth courtroom was put back in, Canns said.
Canns said the courthouse should be good for another 40 to 50 years once it is built.
Also on Thursday, Illuzzi said, $25,000 was appropriated to the Caledonia County state's attorney's office for equipment and furniture.
Illuzzi said Caledonia County State's Attorney Dale Gray has agreed to remain in existing leased space at the federal building on Main Street. Since Gray is not moving into the new courthouse, savings to the state are estimated at between $200,000 and $300,000.
According to Illuzzi, Gray's office is a "pretty grim place."
"So we felt the least we could do was buy him some new furniture," he added.
Also Thursday, the conference committee tried to agree upon an appropriation for the security remodeling and heating/ventilation upgrades at the St. Johnsbury state police barracks.
It is one of the remaining 15 to 20 issues to be resolved in a $39 million capital construction bill that is still being debated. Illuzzi said the Senate is going for $150,000, while the House has recommended $75,000.
"It's a shame but you have to ask for more to get less," said Canns. "It's the way the game is played. It's not a good game, but it's the game of politics. We have to be pretty lucky if we can get enough force in the Northeast Kingdom where we have less delegates to get money."
"We heard testimony (Thursday) from station commander Lt. George Hacking, who came in and made a convincing case for upgrading that office," said Illuzzi.
Illuzzi said Canns has been an active participant and key supporter of the courthouse expansion, the state's attorney's office funding and the barracks upgrades.