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Local News

Will County considers mix of revenues for new courthouse

The Will County Courthouse in downtown Joliet.
The Will County Courthouse in downtown Joliet.

JOLIET – County officials are eyeing a mix of revenue sources – including the city of Joliet and the county’s regional transportation authority funds – to help pay for construction of a new courthouse.

Building a new $175 million to $200 million courthouse would require an additional annual debt service of about $10.2 million to $11.7 million over 25 years, but the county can’t afford that.

At least, not on its own.

“We’ve done our research in regards to our revenue sources, so now we have this remaining dollar amount. Where are we going to find that?” Ragan Freitag, chair for the County Board’s Capital Improvements Committee, said Tuesday. “We need to go to the city of Joliet and ask them to contribute that. … They want us downtown. We want to work with them. They want to invest with us.”

About $2 million to $3 million would be needed from the city annually to help pay for the new courthouse, Freitag said. Whether the city would pitch in remains unclear.

Other annual revenue sources under consideration include money from the county’s RTA funds and $1.5 million from a recently enacted court user-fee. Another $2.4 million stems from a property tax increase approved during the previous year’s budget cycle.

A public safety tax, which requires a referendum, could be considered down the road.

The county already has about $130 million in outstanding debt service stemming from past projects – including the Adult Detention Facility and the county’s Build Will program, among others – according to debt service documents reviewed Tuesday during a joint meeting of the County Board’s Capital Improvements and Finance committees.

That debt is coupled with an estimated $595 million to $680 million needed for long-term transportation and capital projects – including the new courthouse, satellite courthouses, a new sheriff’s facility, health department and a new radio system, according to documents.

“Bottom line is you have about half a billion to $700 million of capital needs, with limited resources,” said Victor Chang, the county’s financial adviser and an agent of Wells Fargo.

The committees’ discussion was on the optimistic side, said Nick Palmer, chief of staff for the Will County Executive’s Office.

“When this washes out in the budget process, it’ll be a challenge,” Palmer said, noting the shift of money from RTA funds is a “significant reduction” for the county’s transportation budget.

The $175 million to $200 million budget target given at Tuesday’s meeting was below initial estimates presented earlier this year by the architectural firm hired to develop preliminary design work. The preferred design option for the new courthouse was estimated between $232 million and $257 million, which includes renovations to the EmCo building and site improvements.

County officials are eyeing the First Midwest Bank site at Ottawa and Jefferson streets, which the county bought last year, as a potential site for a new courthouse.

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