BENTON – Franklin County Circuit Clerk Jim Muir says the Franklin County Courthouse in Benton is “falling down around us” and it’s time for a new courthouse.
At Monday night’s Benton City Council meeting, Muir presented the facts in order to clear up some misinformation circulating about the proposed courthouse project.
Muir says there are many problems with the courthouse. They include the electrical and heating systems not being in great shape, the basement is crumbling, and the elevator is not handicap accessible. Muir added that the biggest thing he worries about daily is security because there’s only one entrance to the courthouse and that’s on the south side.
The Franklin County Board in December voted unanimously to place on the April 2 ballot a one percent sales tax referendum to create revenue for construction of a new courthouse and only for that purpose. Once the courthouse is paid off, the sales tax will sunset.
Plans calls for the courtrooms and the Circuit Clerk’s office to move temporarily to the vacant antique store on the east side of the square until the new courthouse is finished. The County Treasurer and County Clerk’s office will move permanently to the Campbell Building after the south end of the building is renovated. It will take 18 to 24 for months to demolish the courthouse and build the new facility.
Franklin County Board Member Larry Miller joined Muir for Monday’s presentation. Miller says the county board believes renovations to the current courthouse will not work and we will “get into more problems.”
As for building a new courthouse on the present site, Miller says…
During the presentation, Benton Finance Commissioner Dennis Miller compared the courthouse situation with what the city went through a few years ago when it was trying to decide whether to renovate the old City Hall on West Main or build a new facility.
Miller said the council saved the taxpayers money by purchasing the building City Hall is in now (the former Benton School District 47 office) on South Main for roughly $500,000. It was going to cost $1.8 million to renovate the former City Hall or $1.9 million to build a new building. Miller says the courthouse does not need to be repaired. Muir agreed.
Muir added that during a tour of the courthouse with White and Borgognoni Architects out of Carbondale, he asked them why they would be for or against renovating the courthouse.
As for the sales tax, Muir says most of the tax money generated for the new courthouse will come from those coming through Franklin County, especially on I-57. He says there are some items the tax will not affect.
Later in the meeting, some Benton residents were concerned about the effect construction of a new courthouse on the Benton Square could have on traffic around the square and the businesses there.
Benton Public Health and Safety Commissioner Don Storey asked Muir how long construction would tie the square up.
Muir says IDOT has not given him an answer but says the project could cause quadrants of the square to be inaccessible for a period of time.
Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz says he has to keep a lot of things in mind when it comes to this project and keeping the square open and operating for business.
Those attending the meeting were also concerned that there would be bottlenecks in traffic when traffic had to be rerouted for an emergency or traffic crash off I-57 onto Route 37 if parts of the square had to be closed. There were also some suggestions that county leaders should look for another site to build the new courthouse so this would not happen.
Toward the end of the presentation, Muir said county leaders will be asking every city council and village board to pass a resolution showing support for the courthouse proposal. The Benton City Council will vote on this at its next meeting on Feb. 25.
Muir says if the referendum fails this time, the County Board has the right to raise property taxes to build a new courthouse if needed. That’s why county leaders are presenting everyone with a choice so the best decision will be made on this issue.
Two other sales tax referendums regarding a new courthouse have failed in recent years.
Click here to listen to the entire presentation.