ROCK ISLAND -- With a vote just days away, Rock Island County officials on Thursday tried to address lingering concerns over a referendum that would give its public building commission the authority to relocate the county courthouse.
At a KeyStone Neighborhood-sponsored forum, Rock Island County residents once again directed questions to officials seeking to pass a ballot measure Tuesday that would expand the powers of the public building commission. If approved, the referendum would allow the commission to finance new county building projects.
With the 116-year-old courthouse slipping further into disrepair,Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek has said the building is a legal liability that already costs the county $900,000 yearly in maintenance.
David O'Brien, of Rock Island, was concerned by the wording of the referendum, saying it leaves too few checks and balances for the county. He asked if it could be amended to ensure voters that spending was under control.
Chief 14th Judicial Circuit Judge Jeffrey O'Connor said the wording is dictated by a state law on public building commissions. He added the county has spending restrictions on any future building project.
Currently, the commission has the authority to finance only the county jail and justice center. When it financed those projects, it spent well below the maximum amount allowed by the county, Judge O'Connor said. But he said the narrow scope of the commission is obsolete.
"Only the voters can remove that obsolescence," he said.
John Wetzel, a member of the county board's ad hoc committee created to assess the county's building needs, said the 15 county public building commissions in Illinois that he researched have authority over all county buildings. The expanded scope of the commission, he said, would allow the county to arrive at a more reasonable solution for the courthouse, rather than having one "decided in court."
Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee has said circuit judges have laid the groundwork to sue the county and force it to address the aging courthouse's problems if voters turn down Tuesday's referendum.
The ad hoc committee is tasked with submitting a recommendation to the county board based on its assessment and other findings, Mr. Banaszek said.If the board approves the recommendation, it will direct the public building commission to begin the remediation process, he said.
Mr. Banaszek said he hopes to have the committee's recommendations within six months, but construction of a new courthouse will not be complete for "a couple of years."
County board memberKimberly Callaway Thompson, who co-chairs the ad hoc committee, said the group is considering eight possible solutions for the courthouse. They include relocating to another downtown Rock Island location, building a new courthouse addition onto the justice center and moving both the courthouse and county administration into theQuad Cities Industrial Center.
"The process will have to start with an assessment if we're going to do it right." Ms. Thompson said.
Today is Wednesday, Dec. 11, the 345th day of 2013. There are 20 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: The message of Abraham Lincoln, read in congress yesterday, is published in full in our paper today, with a new proclamation relating the terms upon which states can return to the union. 1888 — 125 years ago: An appropriation has been made by congress for the improvement of the upper Mississippi River with $200,000 set aside for the portion of the river between Keokuk and the mouth of the Illinois River. 1913 — 100 years ago: Work of remodeling First Swedish Lutheran Church at 4th Avenue and 14th Street was nearly completed. 1938 — 75 years ago: An unexplained outbreak of tularemia (rabbit fever) in the state has Illinois public health officials puzzled. Ten persons have died, and 243 are officially reported ill with the infection. 1963 — 50 years ago: A dramatic, multi-million dollar riverfront improvement project for the downtown area of Rock Island was unveiled at a meeting of 200 civic leaders at noon today. 1988 — 25 years ago: For several supporters of the Dispatch Goodfellow/Argus Santa program their donation is a year long project. Emma Pugh and Anne Persinger spent a good part of their spare time this year knitting forty pairs of mittens and slippers.