Fourteenth Circuit Chief Judge Jeffrey O’Connor is handing Rock Island County leaders a $250,000 loan, not a lawsuit, to help fix their decaying court facilities.
Just days after voters said “no” to expanding a public building commission to finance a new courthouse, O’Connor announced Friday he would hold off on suing the county to pay for one through a property tax increase.
Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek said Wednesday that O’Connor and County Circuit Clerk Lisa Bierman have agreed to loan the county up to $250,000 to pay for a space needs assessment.
“Obviously, I’m a lot more pleased with this route than having a lawsuit pending against us,” Banaszek said. “It shows the judges and county board working in cooperation to solve this issue. I’d rather be seen working with the court system than be forced into it.”
In February, Banaszek created an ad hoc committee to research different options for the courthouse. Five firms have submitted requests to do the county’s space needs assessment, and Banaszek said he would like the ad hoc committee to choose one at its next meeting, scheduled for May 2.
He thinks a space needs assessment could take three to nine months to complete. The firms are quoting prices in the range of $35,000 to $350,000 to do the assessment, according to county documents.
“I’d like to get the process moving along,” Banaszek said.
Meanwhile, ad hoc committee members have begun discussing eight options for a new courthouse, from keeping it downtown and consolidating it with other county offices to relocating out of downtown to an industrial site on the Moline border.
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The 117-year-old Rock Island County Courthouse doesn’t meet modern building or fire codes, and so far, none of the ad hoc committee’s 12 members has suggesting keeping and restoring it.
Banaszek said that because the $250,000 is a loan, he intends to have it paid back. At its regular meeting Tuesday, the county board approved negotiating for the sale of certain county property, he said.
Banaszek said he wants to return to voters in a year for another referendum on the courthouse, with wording that he said should be more specific.
“Voters wanted something more firm as far as the project itself, how much it will cost and where it will be,” Banaszek said.