RI County Board Votes Against Courthouse Referendum Again; Lawsu - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

RI County Board Votes Against Courthouse Referendum Again; Lawsuit Potential Grows


The Rock Island County courthouse has stood for over a century.

The chief judge says it no longer meets minimum safety standards and has threatened to sue.

Voters defeated a measure in the spring providing a way to borrow money for a new courthouse.

Fears of approving a blank check ran high at the time.

The board started down another path, hiring a firm to study the options, using money loaned from the court system to pay for it.

The last step was for the board to give the information to voters.

A step it voted against two weeks ago.

The referendum asked voters to approve borrowing up to $72 million to pay for a new courthouse and renovate the current county office building.

The new courthouse would be built south of the Rock Island County Jail.

The board voted 16-8 again Monday to keep that issue off the ballot.

Even after Chief Judge Jeff O'Connor warned the board it is stepping into more expensive territory the longer it delays.

"It's either going to be a re submittal at a special election or an order to build it at commercial rates," says O'Connor.

Options he says will cost Rock Island county taxpayers more if the county board lets a lawsuit settle the courthouse rebuilding process.

"The county cannot prevail in this lawsuit, there is no defense that I'm aware of," says O'Connor.

The judge did not say when he will file a lawsuit, but he indicates his back is up against a wall.

"We need money there's no doubt about it, this courthouse problem has to be solved, but there's a lot of different ways of doing it," says board member Don Johnston.

He voted against it twice. He believes, this referendum, coupled with three other tax questions is doomed.

"I think this referendum with the other ones that are on are so involved, and involve so much money, it's too much of a burden for the taxpayers," says Johnston.

"I think that's a mistake but at the same time, I understand with all the concerns the financial concerns the county has now where there might be some hesitation," says board chairman Phil Banaszek.

He says the county board would have been able to spend less than what the referendum would authorized. Now he believes O'Connor has no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit.

"Tonight the process has stopped and I think that more than likely they're going to have to take it into their own hands and force things" says Banaszek.

A process that looks more likely to pit lawmakers against those charged with applying the law.

"What you're dealing with is the third branch of the Illinois state government, from the supreme court on down," says O'Connor.

If the chief judge files a lawsuit, a judge from a different part of the state will be brought into the hear the case and issue a ruling.

The Illinois Supreme Court updated its safety standards in 2011.

The Rock Island County Courthouse does not meet those standards.

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