Rock Island County officials on Thursday night tried to ease concerns over the potential cost of approving a referendum on the April 9 ballot.
A panel of county board members and Fourteenth Judicial Circuit judges fielded questions at the second informational forum this month on the referendum that asks voters whether the Rock Island County Public Building Commission should finance new building projects.
The forum, hosted by the Community Caring Conference, was held at Local 25 Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall in Rock Island.
When created, the commission was limited to the building and maintenance of the county jail. But officials hope that, given the poor shape of the Rock Island County courthouse, voters will expand the commission's power.
The courthouse poses a safety hazard and puts the county at risk of a lawsuit, according to the Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek. The building is particularly vulnerable to fires and flooding, he said, and costs the county about $900,000 a year in maintenance.
Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee has announced that, if voters turn down the April 9 referendum,Fourteenth Judicial Circuit judges have laid the groundwork to sue the county to force it to address problems with the 116-year-old courthouse.
Circuit Judge Mark VandeWiele on Thursday night said he worries the county soon may face a separate lawsuit resulting from bricks on the exterior of the building crumbling off the walls.
"The risk is high that someone is going to be injured," he said.
Responding to residents questions on whether the county would seek the best offer on constructing a new courthouse, Judge VandeWiele said the commission will need to look at projected costs of operation before deciding what is most economical. The county alsois considering replacing the administrative building, as it is about the same age as the courthouse.
"It needed to at least be in the planning mix," Judge VandeWiele said. Relocating the administrative building would be a proactive move, he said, rather than waiting 10 years and the current building potential becomes a safety concern.
"It's a shame we have employees in this county working under these conditions," said Hunt Harris who serves on the county board's ad hoc committee formed a month ago to study and assess the county's building needs.
He noticed many residents are worried where the money would come from to finance a new courthouse.
"I understand the mistrust issues," he said. But he said the county may lose out on long-term savings because of the current low interest rates if it does not make the improvements in the near future.
Mr. Harris, however, noted the ad hoc committee will need three to nine months more before it can tell the county board which facilities need the most attention.
Also answering audience questions were county board members Brian Vyncke and Kimberly Callaway Thompson, both on the ad hoc committee, and Chief Judge Jeffrey O'Connor.
Today is Thursday, April 24, the 114th day of 2014. There are 251 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: We learn that it is a contemplation to start a paper mill in Rock Island during the summer by a gentleman from the East. 1889 -- 125 years ago: The gates of Oklahoma were swung open at noon today, and a throng of more than 30,000 settlers started over its soil. 1914 -- 100 years ago: The Iowa Coliseum Co. was incorporated with $40,000 capital and planned a building on 4th Street between Warren and Green streets in Davenport. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Plans are being discussed for resurfacing the streets in the entire downtown district of Rock Island. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Some 45 jobs will be created at J.I. Case Co.'s Rock Island plant in a expansion of operations announced yesterday afternoon at the firm's headquarters in Racine, Wis. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Gardeners and farmers cheered, but not all Quad-Citians found joy Saturday as more than an inch of rain fell on the area. Motorists faced dangerous, rain-slick roads as the water activated grease and grime that had built up during dry weather.