Chief judge criticizes board decision against funding new RICO courthouse

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Days after the county board voted against asking taxpayers for money for a new courthouse and remodeled county office building, the 14th judicial circuit chief judge weighed in on the issue.

Chief Judge Jeffrey W. O’Connor issued a letter December 20, 2013 said the Rock Island County Courthouse falls short of minimum standards for building, electrical, plumbing and ventilation codes, and that the responsibility for making it right rests squarely on the shoulders of the county board.

“The courthouse is not an optional project,” O’Connor’s letter said.

Related:  A look inside the RI County courthouse

O’Connor’s letter praised the committee created to find and report what was needed to improve the courthouse, saying the group created a comprehensive report to answer questions raised after the April 2013 election.  That’s when voters did not pass an issue that would have allowed the Public Building Commission to decide how to update the courthouse and how to finance those improvements.

The county board voted against sending the issue back to taxpayers for a vote in March 2014.  Board Chairman Phil Banaszek said there was concern that funding shortages for Hope Creek Care Center would somehow fall to the wayside if voters were asked to pay for a new courthouse and county building improvements.

“The county board has chosen to seek a taxpayer levy to save an optional project at the complete rejection of a statutorily mandated courthouse,” O’Connor’s letter said.  “Nursing homes are not a duty of a county board but an optional project which would be fine if it would run in the black on its own merits.”

Hope Creek faces a $2.5-million deficit heading into 2014.  The board has considered several ideas for making up that deficit, including a possible lottery, selling to private operators and asking voters to approve a referendum that would raise property taxes.

The county has owned the facility for more than 150 years.

Read Judge O’Connor’s letter – click here.



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