As courthouse vote nears, referendum concerns linger


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Originally Posted Online: April 04, 2013, 9:35 pm
Last Updated: April 05, 2013, 9:19 am
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By Kevin Smith, ksmith@qconline.com

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 But he said the narrow scope of the commission is obsolete.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.



















 



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  Today is Friday, Sept. 19, the 262nd day of 2014. There are 103 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: Charles M. Osborn of this city, a lawyer of prominence, who voted for Lincoln in 1860 is now out strong for McClellan and will take the stump for him.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The George Fleming company had begun its dried fruit packing in a branch plant on 16th Street, Rock Island, employing nearly a hundred workers.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The cornerstone of the new Eagles home was laid. Building committee members were John Kobeman, Fred Ehmke and Frank Wich.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Former Kaiser Wilhelm, in exile, is sad as the Nazis march with communists.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Ninety-two members of the acappella choir at Davenport's West High School today accepted an invitation to perform at the New York World's Fair on June 13, 1965.
1989 -- 25 years ago: A Rock Island woman is one of 50 winners of $10,000 in cash in the Illinois State Lottery's "Celebration "89" instant ticket game. Dawn Loeffler was the third winner to be chosen through daily drawings that began Aug. 28 and will run 50 consecutive days.






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