Cracked plaster and peeling paint in the rotunda are visible on the fourth floor of the Rock Island County Courthouse. (John Schultz / Quad-City Times)

John Schultz

If the April 9 referendum on the Rock Island County Courthouse fails, residents may see a boost in their property taxes to pay for a new one, the county’s state’s attorney said Wednesday.

The referendum is to let voters decide whether they want to use an already existing public building commission as a way to finance the project.

If voters say no, State’s Attorney John McGehee said judges in the 14th Circuit may follow through on a threat to sue the county to demand a new courthouse.

He said the judges may hold the county in contempt if it doesn’t issue a special property tax to finance the project, and by law the county would have only 10 years to pay it off. By contrast, the public building commission can take 20 years to finance the project.

“It’ll cost the taxpayer a lot more money,” McGehee told a 12-member ad hoc committee on county facilities, comparing the tax method to the commission financing the project.

To show the judges mean business, McGehee said in his role as the county’s attorney, he already has been served with an intent to sue notice.

“It can just be ordered, and you have to do it,” he said of the special tax.

Committee members echoed those concerns if the referendum fails.

“Pay now or pay later, and if you pay later, it’ll be a whole lot more money,” Don DeLoose, a county bailiff, said.

Committee members have unanimously agreed to support the referendum and are using a campaign strategy of public forums, mailers and interviews as a way to get their message out. They have information on about eight or nine options for the courthouse, but so far they haven’t chosen one to recommend and say they won’t before April 9.

There was some discussion Wednesday as to where the courthouse ought to be, but no one has yet discussed costs associated with each option.

“It’s not rational to leave the downtown area,” Phil Fuhr, Rock Island County Farm Bureau director, said.

Pat Wendt, real estate appraiser, encouraged consideration of consolidating county offices and the courthouse at the QCIC industrial site on the Rock Island-Moline border. He said QCIC offered “plenty of rental space” for lawyers and county offices.

DeLoose supported any of the consolidation options. “Common sense tells you to put it all together,” he said. He added that as he discusses the referendum with potential voters, many have asked him about locations.

Phil Banaszek, county board chairman, said the county has been buying downtown property for future county needs.

County board member Brian Vyncke said the ad hoc committee should continue to meet after April 9, even if the referendum fails. “We’ll go in a different direction” if the referendum fails, he said.

That direction may be determined by the judges. “Our hands are tied,” county board member Kim Callaway-Thomson said.