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posted: 3/3/2010 12:01 AM

Accommodating more judges comes with obstacles

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Kane County's new Building and Investment Task Force said Tuesday it doesn't want to spend months mulling over blueprints when the long-term solution to finding room for new judges is obvious - build more space.

There are six options to solving the dilemma of where to put three new judges who will arrive in December. But only one option is the long-term fix the county needs, task force members agreed.

The plan, known as Option Three, would take the master plan for the judicial center to the next level. That means adding a wing to the complex where the bulk of the court systems's administrative offices would go, thereby freeing up more space in the existing structure to add courtrooms.

"It seems to me we're going to do (Option Three)," Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti said to fellow task force members. "I don't know how we're going to escape that. In the end, we need to do that. To me, it's a no-brainer. What do we do until then is more of the challenge."

The main obstacle to Option Three will be its unknown costs and how it matches with the county's ability to borrow money and reserve funds for capital projects. The task force said a tax increase is not being considered. Option Three's cost estimate might not be known until May, and it would take up to four years to build. That will force the adoption of a second, more temporary, solution.

Under consideration is using the remaining space at the old Montgomery Ward building in St. Charles which is only partially used by the Circuit Court Clerk's office. Juggling staff at the civil courthouse in Geneva to squeeze in the new judges is also an option. Not considered viable options are the old forest preserve district office and Sixth Street School buildings. Whichever short-term option is selected, Kane County Board member Mark Davoust said it should be done as inexpensively as possible to reserve money for the long-term solution.

Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay talked about the value of using the same process for courthouse expansion as was used to build a new jail. The new jail opened with more inmates than available beds, but a plethora of shell space for expansion because the county could not afford to hire more staff to oversee all the potential space in the jail. With a county budget barely in the black last year, a lack of operating funds is the same problem hanging over expansion plans of the judicial center. More courtrooms and judges mean more state's attorneys, public defenders, clerks and security staff are needed. Right now, there's no obvious solution for how to pay those people.

"The biggest challenge is not what you're going to build," McConnaughay said. "The biggest challenge is how you're going to fund the ongoing cost of additional personnel."