Originally Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2013, 9:25 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 16, 2013, 9:46 am
RI County seeks way to get new courthouse
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By Eric Timmons, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rock Island County's voters will be asked in April if they support creating a way for the county's public building commission to borrow money to build a new courthouse.
The Rock Island County Board voted on Tuesday to hold a referendum during the April 9 local elections asking voters if they support expanding the commission's authority.By doing so, voters would allow the commission to issue bonds to build a new courthouse and county office building, provided there was support from the county board.
The commission, which is independent of the county, wascreated to finance construction of the Rock Island County Justice Center.
During a closed door meeting on Tuesday, Chief Judge Jeffrey O'Connor spoke to the county board in support of the referendum.He told reporters it was "absolutely essential" the courthouse be replaced, and he said he thought the public would back the move.
For years, judges and some county board members have pushed for either extensive renovations or replacement of the courthouse, which is more than 100 years old.
"It has to be done," Judge O'Connor said. "It can't be pushed aside any longer."
The board voted 20-1 to put the referendum on the April 9 ballot. The lone dissent came from Rock Island County Board member Brian Vyncke, D-Moline, who said the referendum question -- which does not mention building a new courthouse or issuing bonds -- was too vague.
As approved Tuesday, the referendum question asks voters if they support allowing the county board to expand the purpose of the building commission "to include all the powers and authority prescribed by the Public Building Commission Act."
Last year's proposal to build a new county courthouse and office complex at the Quad Cities Industrial Center remains on the table, but has failed to win county board members' support. The development has an estimated price tag of $34 million.
A number of county board members oppose moving the courthouse and county office building out of downtown Rock Island.
Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek said financing a new courthouse through the public building commission would likely mean higher property taxes.If the building commission's powers are expanded, it could issue bonds to build a courthouse. The commission then would lease the new courthouse to the county, with the lease covering the cost of paying off the bonds.
Mr. Banaszek said he plans to launch a campaign to inform the public about the process and the need to update the county's aging buildings.He has previously stated the county should seek developers' ideas on a new county complex or renovating the existing properties.