RICO Voters Will Decide If They Want To See New Courthouse

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The first step in the process of finding a solution for the 126-year-old Rock Island County Courthouse was approved by the Rock Island County Board on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013.

It's a story News 8's Chris Minor first reported on News 8 at 5pm (for story, click on first video above)

Judges from the 14th Judicial Circuit were threatening legal action against the County if the Board did not act, but after a 20-1 vote, it appears board members and local judges are moving in the same direction... forward.

"The County Board has an obligation to build and maintain only two buildings... one's a jail and one's a courthouse," says Chief Judge Jeffrey O'Connor. "And it is not acceptable to say we can't do it, because if you can't do it then you don’t have Rock Island County."

Judge O'Connor says he and other local judges were prepared to sue the board over the conditions of the courthouse. On a tour with News 8's Chris Minor in June 2012, the judge said the building is not up to state and federal codes.

"The building is very old," said Judge O'Connor tonight. "It's very dangerous. It has to be replaced."

Now, it will be up to voters -- the taxpayers -- to decide if they want to see change. On April 9th, 2013, there will be a referendum on the ballot that asks voters to give the County's Public Building Commission the power to oversee planning and financing of new capital improvement projects. The Commission's duties were limited to building the Rock Island County Jail and Sheriff's Department.

"I think it's probably the best case scenario in regards to starting the ball rolling and looking at a new facility for the County," says Rock Island County Board Chairman, Phil Banaszek.

Chairman Banaszek says this is just the first step, but an important one... to get taxpayers on board. If they're not...

"I guess we'll look at 'Plan B' or talk about what our other options are," says Chairman Banaszek.

"If the voters reject it, it's all dead in the water," says Judge O'Connor. "There's no mechanism in Rock Island County by which to make any capital improvements so it's return to the dark ages."

Voting "Yes" on the April 9th ballot may mean voting for higher taxes in the future. The Board does not know yet how much this project will cost, because they don't know exactly what they're going to do, whether it be rehabilitating the current building, demolishing the current building and building a new one, or moving to an already existing building.

Chairman Banaszek says the QCIC building in Rock Island is still a possibility.

He and Judge O'Connor say they will be out educating the public in the next three months to tell them everything they need to know so they can make an informed decision on April 9th.