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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Mar. 19, 2004 14 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week' items: Gov. Jeb Bush hasn't budged on his budget proposal to fund the state trial courts.Court becomes hazardous waste siteHenry Andringa will be interviewed today by the 6th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission for the seat

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

No give

Gov. Jeb Bush hasn't budged on his budget proposal to fund the state trial courts under Revision 7 to Article V of the state Constitution - the voter mandate to shift funding to the state from county governments.

A Bush spokesperson told Coffee Talk the governor made no new recommendations for courts funding under his recently released supplemental budget. He issued the supplemental budget in response to estimates that show the availability of about $1.1 billion in new state revenue.

There is some good news, however. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Article V Implementation and Judiciary just released its Revision 7 funding projections. It budgeted about $14.6 million more than the governor's budget for trial courts funding.

Although it's difficult to follow the spreadsheet, Elizabeth "Lisa" Goodner, the state courts' administrator, says her staff estimates the subcommittee allocated about $113.5 million in start up funds for just the state trial courts. The governor originally recommended about $98.8 million. But the subcommittee recommendation is still far less than the $167 million recommended by the Florida Supreme Court's Trial Court Budget Commission (TCBC).

Judges will be happy to know the subcommittee recognized their concerns about judicial assistants. The TCBC sought $8 million to cover that expense, while Bush recommended only $2.3 million. The subcommittee instead recommended $9.5 million.

On the other hand, the subcommittee's budget fell in line with Bush's recommendations for masters and hearing officers - only 105.5 full-time equivalent positions. The TCBC sought 198.

One piece of the fiduciary puzzle is still missing. The state House Subcommittee of Judicial Appropriations was expected to release its budget recommendations on March 18 after GCBR's deadline for this issue. Then the politics begin as the House and Senate compare their recommendations for final allocations.

Court becomes hazardous waste site

The 2nd District Court of Appeal has an unexpected problem: The older half of the Lakeland building that houses the court has been declared an EPA hazardous waste site. No kidding.

Workers remodeling the older part of the building recently discovered asbestos tiles (from the early '60s) above the ceiling, which means that area is now sealed off from the rest of the building where Chief Judge Chris Altenbernd and others now work.

"It could cost upwards to a million dollars to get that part of the building back in operation," Altenbernd says. "Even if we bulldoze it, it will cost half a million because we have to abate - remove all the asbestos material."

Not only is money for the unanticipated repairs a problem, the server for Altenbernd's computer is in that part of the building, as are large records for several pending big appeals, he says.

But there is some good news, maybe.

"I was very concerned where I'd find the money," Altenbernd recently told the St. Petersburg Bar Association. "But then like manna from heaven I received a pleading from a prisoner, General Michael Manuel Brown. At the very bottom it says, 'enclosed is $3,999,999.' Unfortunately the clerk won't cough up this money. But I'm going to track this down."

The chief judge might have an easier time getting the money from the inmate than getting it out of the Legislature this year.

At long last

In Henry Andringa's 16 years on the bench, he has not once applied to be a circuit judge.

That has now changed.

Andringa, 60, will be interviewed today by the 6th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission for the seat previously held by Charles Cope. Three other county judges, Walter Fullerton, Sonny Im and Amy Williams, are vying for the spot, as are 25 lawyers.

Andringa has spent most of his years as Pinellas County's administrative judge or as a judge in the "People's Court," as he likes to call it.

He was clearly reticent to talk publicly about his decision to become a circuit judge prior to talking to the JNC. But he says he stayed a county judge for so many years because "it was an important position."

"Now I'm ready to try something else," Andringa says.

If the governor promotes Andringa, he'll join his former sidekick at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office on the circuit bench, Judge Frank Quesada. The two, in their younger days, were known as "Hank and Frank."

Builders face skyrocketing steel costs

Recent steel price increases and supply shortages are starting to mean big bucks for construction companies and their clients.

"It's a mixture of the tariffs, a lack of supply and a decline in (steel ore)," says Jack Cox, president of Sarasota-based Halfacre Construction Co. "Everyone is facing pretty stiff increases. The price increases started Feb. 1. I think so far they have gone up a total of 66%. So far a lot of companies have been absorbing it, but there is only so much cost we can absorb. We are scheduled for another 25% increase April 1."

Cox estimates that the construction cost of a $1 million, 25,000-square-foot commercial building will jump by at least $60,000 because of increasing steel prices.

Trident Building Systems Inc. of Sarasota, which designs, manufacturers, and constructs metal buildings, is one of the companies that has been hardest hit.

"We should be building out of gold; it would be cheaper," Lee Moss, director of sales and product development for Trident, says jokingly. "Everything we do is steel. We've seen product increases of 100%. How can we absorb that? Steel used to be 20 cents to 25 cents a pound; now, it is 45 cents to 50 cents a pound. This is pretty unbelievable. The only times I can remember when we have seen prices go up this much is in 1974 and the Korean War."

Moss says that another possible cause of the price increase is that China has increased its purchase of steel from 22% of the total world market to around 35%.

"Steel is one of the most recyclable commodities," Moss says. "The U.S. gets almost all of its product from scrap. (But) the price of scrap has gone from $60 to more than $400 a ton."

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