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 Sunday, March 9, the 68th day of 2014. There are 297 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Much damage is being done to sidewalks, shade trees, fences and gardens by hogs that are running at large about town. 1889 -- 125 years ago: H.C. Cleveland was elected air knight captain of Rock Island Division Uniform Rank Knights of Pythias. 1914 -- 100 years ago: B.W. Wilson, authority on birds and their habits, spoke at the weekly luncheon at the Rock Island Club. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The famous Dionne quintuplets have been invited to visit King George and Queen Elizabeth in Toronto on May 22, but Papa Dionne thinks their majesties should include the Callander nursery in their tour. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Ever been smothered by funny stuff? Well more than 2,600 people were last night when two boys named Tom and Dick Smothers took a "rocky, twisting road to folk music" in Davenport Masonic Temple. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Moline residents soon may be asked to recycle part of their garbage and might even get paid for it.