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Local News

Will County executive's office, Republicans remain at odds over RTA funds

County considers diverting road funds for courthouse project

JOLIET — The Republican-led Will County Executive Committee pushed forward Thursday with a plan to use RTA funds to help pay for a new courthouse despite Nick Palmer, the county executive's chief of staff, arguing the move leaves fewer dollars for road projects.

The proposal moved forward during Thursday's committee meeting, but not before a heated debate between Palmer and Will County Executive Committee Chairman Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort.

At issue was whether officials can afford to divert 25 percent of RTA sales tax revenue each year to help build a new courthouse.

Palmer said County Executive Larry Walsh Sr., a Democrat, has already agreed to pull about $16 million total in RTA funds in 2016 and 2017 to help pay for a new sheriff's facility at Route 52 and Laraway Road.

The proposal presented Thursday would allow the county to take 25 percent — or an additional $6 million — from the RTA funds on a yearly basis starting in 2018 to pay off bonds associated with the courthouse.

“If you look at the numbers, you'll see that it's not going to work. We are going to significantly reduce … If that's your choice, then that's that,” Palmer said.

Moustis argued the county is "sitting on" $110 million in reserves — or about three year's worth of projects — between RTA funds and motor-fuel tax funds. There's more than enough to go around, he said.

Annual RTA revenue is about $24 million, but Palmer said the county is still paying back $100 million in bonds issued to shore up the county's Build Will program, a multiyear transportation plan.

Palmer said he had a projection spreadsheet, showing a reduction in RTA and MFT funds over a 10-year period with money being diverted elsewhere.

“Let's just move on," Moustis said. "I could probably do a spreadsheet that would show something different."

Other Republican board members argued using the RTA and MFT funds would avoid a tax hike.

Palmer then criticized Moustis for not allowing a recent proposal from Walsh's office to be heard by committee. Walsh wants to establish a cash reserve policy for RTA and MFT funds, Palmer said.

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask one question. We submitted to the board a request for [an agenda item]. It was not granted but I didn't expect you to take action and vote yes or no on this today," Palmer said. "Can we get a hearing on the proposals? You can vote them up or you can vote them down.”

Moustis said "the answer is no," telling Palmer to get someone else on the committee to bring it forward.

“But you make the decisions, Mr. Chairman, as far as committees go,” Palmer said. “We're not going to get a hearing. So this is like Springfield. That's what we've become.”

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