In less than two weeks, Rock Island County voters will take to the polls to decide the fate of the county courthouse. Thursday, county justices said that whether the referendum passes or fails, though, the old building will cost taxpayers.
There's little debate that the courthouse, built before the turn of the century, needs significant upgrades. Maintenance on the current building costs the county more than $900,000 a year. County justices who work in the facility have threatened legal action if nothing is done about the conditions, calling the building a "financial time bomb."
“There's no free lunch. It's going to cost taxpayers something to build. The condition of the building is such that it has to be replaced. Doing it this way is the cheapest, most cost effective way," said Rock Island County Circuit Court Judge Mark VandeWiele.
VandeWiele hopes taxpayers will vote "yes," allowing the Public Building Commission to finance the project over 20 years. If the referendum fails and the judges are forced to sue, the law only gives 10 years to finance a new courthouse.
“It's like trying to finance your car over three years or finance it over six years. Your payment's obviously less if you finance it over six years. Here, we’re just using bigger numbers over a bigger term," said VandeWiele.
Numbers from the County Board predict property taxes would go up $8 a year on a $100,000 home, using the Public Building Commission to finance the project. A conventional bond issue would double that cost for taxpayers to $16 a year. An order to build from the courts would mean a $30 a year tax hike.
Not all taxpayers, though, are buying what the County Board is selling.
“Are you just gonna buy a car and say, 'Look at this car, it’s a good one, just buy it because I told you to.' Sorry, I wanna know what I’m buying. And that’s basically what we’re doing here, we wanna know, as taxpayers, what we’re purchasing," said Carl Granata.
Some, like Granata, want more say over where the courthouse is built and how much it ultimately costs. Both sides, though, hope taxpayers become smart shoppers before election day.
The election is on April 9th. The Rock Island County Board will be hosting another public forum on April 3rd at 6 p.m. at the Western Illinois Quad City Campus.