A Legislature committee agreed Wednesday that all other county departments will have to make way for the space needs of the court system.
"It's the mind-set of this committee that the courthouse is for courts," said Legislator Gerald K. Farnham, R-Lockport, chairman of the Public Works Committee.
That panel met to discuss demands by the state Office of Court Administration for more room for the operations of the County, Surrogate's and Family courts.
The county feels under the gun because Harold J. Brand Jr., executive assistant to the administrative judge for Western New York, wrote Legislature Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster a letter Feb. 14 calling the county's current court facilities "neither suitable nor sufficient."
Brand noted that state law allows the state to withhold financial aid from a county whose court space isn't up to snuff. He estimated the courts need another 12,000 square feet of conference and office space in Lockport alone.
As for where the evicted county departments would go, Burmaster said construction of a new county office building is inevitable.
"I don't think we have a choice on whether we do it or not," said Burmaster, R-Ransomville. But he predicted infighting among departments.
"There's turf issues here. No one wants to move," Burmaster said.
The departments that take up the most space in the courthouse that are not connected to the court system are the county clerk, county treasurer and the Legislature itself. There are also several smaller departments in the three-story building.
Farnham directed Kevin P.O'Brien, deputy public works commissioner for engineering, to report at another meeting next week on the feasibility of evicting various departments and how much space that would make available.
"There are no sacred cows?" asked O'Brien. No one told him there were.
Farnham said, "If this committee meets every week, I don't think it'll take very long to make a recommendation." The full Legislature will have the final say.
However, Farnham said executing that recommendation will take longer. "We have to decide where we're going to put (a new building) and how big. . . . We've got to have some sense of direction about the size of government -- what government's going to consist of."
A referendum on creating a county executive position is expected in November. If it passes, the executive wouldn't be elected until November 2003, but Burmaster acknowledged that if the county had an executive now, it wouldn't have any office space for him.
The only decision made so far is to move the county print shop to a former temporary jail at the Mount View complex and turn the courthouse basement into an assembly room for those called for jury duty.
District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy asked for a better grand jury room and more space for his prosecutors' offices.
The cost of a new three-story county administration building has been roughly estimated at $14 million. Burmaster said the county just paid off practically all its previous bonded debt with tobacco revenues, so at least it will be in good shape if it has to borrow.