$225 million in bonds to pay for three Will County major building projects

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12/1/2015  Diily southtown  Susan Laferty

Will County Board committee is proposing that the county sell $225 million in bonds to pay for three major building projects, including a new county courthouse in downtown Joliet.

The courthouse project, which could start in 2018, and the addition of a satellite courthouse in northern Will County are estimated to cost about $175 million, according to the figures presented during the finance committee meeting Tuesday.

Building a new sheriff’s department headquarters at Illinois 52 and Laraway Road, expected to begin next year, is estimated to cost $20 million. The third project, a building to replace the aging health department offices on Ella Avenue in Joliet, could cost $30 million.

The finance committee approved the bond issue, payable over 30 years starting in 2017, which still must be approved by the full County Board.

Committee chairman Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, laid out a plan identifying several revenue sources for the annual debt payment on the bonds, estimated to be between $12 million and $13 million.

About $9 million initially would come from $2.4 million in the county property tax levy that was raised last year for this purpose; $1.5 million from a new courthouse fee; $1 million in landfill fees; $2 million from the Public Building Commission; $500,000 from Joliet; $300,000 from a higher parking fee at the courthouse parking lot and about $1 million from two types of development bonds for which the county gets a federal subsidy.

The remaining $3 million to $4 million per year would come from the county’s share of Regional Transportation Authority funds, which can be used because the new courthouse and sheriff’s police station are considered public safety projects. This allocation would amount to 15 percent of the county’s annual RTA revenue, a figure that Fricilone said he hopes to decrease over time.

County officials noted that some of these revenue sources will dry up before the bonds are paid off in 2047. Joliet committed its $500,000 in each of the next 20 years, the federal subsidy on the bonds ends in 2030 and the landfill fees could run out in 2042.

But because all the revenue sources come from the county, amounts from other sources can be adjusted as needed, officials said.

“If we adopt this (finance plan) we agree to (adjust the county tax levy) to support this plan,” board member Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet, said. “In the next budget, we need to make sure these costs are covered. We are committed to dedicating this revenue.”

“This is the start of a plan. It will be tweaked. But the longer we wait, the more costly it will be,” Fricilone said.

“If we don’t put this forward, we will never get going,” Republican Caucus Chairman Chuck Maher, R-Naperville, said.

Underlying the financing plan is a philosophy to issue bonds for long-term building projects and use cash for short-term improvements, such as new vehicles and computer systems, Fricilone said.

Nick Palmer, chief of staff for County Executive Larry Walsh, told the finance committee that Walsh prefers a 20-year bond issue to save money on interest. Before the full board votes on the bond issue, the county’s bond counsel will provide interest figures for 20-year and 30-year bonds.

The County Board will meet Dec. 10 to review building plans for the new courthouse.

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