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posted: 8/29/2012 3:20 PM

Kane moves toward spending millions on judicial center

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The new plan to provide space for Kane County's growing need for judges might be less expensive than the original $100 million vision, but it's still going to cost taxpayers more than $313,000 to figure out how much cheaper. Ongoing debate on the need for judges might also reveal if the $5.42 million county board members spent to add traffic courtrooms to the circuit court clerk building in St. Charles was money well spent.

The county board voted to expanded the circuit court clerk building in 2010 after being told more space was needed in the county's legal system to reduce a backlog of cases. The expansion came against the wishes of St. Charles officials who have long wanted the former Montgomery Ward building the circuit court clerk took over to once again become a retail building.

Now in 2012, Kane County is again faced with a space problem. There aren't enough courtrooms and staff space to accommodate the new judges Kane County has and will receive as a result of ongoing population growth documented in the 2010 census. Judicial standards indicate Kane County should have one judge for every 35,000 residents. That's brought, on average, an additional judge to the county every year for the past 11 years.

"We have every reason to think that's going to continue in the future," Chief Judge Robert Spence said to a committee of county board members Wednesday.

Kane County officials originally wanted a massive $100 million expansion of the judicial campus, including a new wing and parking garage. That would've solved the space problem for the foreseeable future. The county doesn't have the money nor the desire to raise taxes to pay for that project. County officials now want to move forward with a modified form of the $100 million plan that is expected to cost between $30 million and $40 million once the $313,000 of design planning is done.

The problem is, the less expensive solution is still somewhat of a temporary fix.

"The bigger picture question is long-term thinking to consolidate our court facilities on one campus," county board member John Hoscheit said. "I think it would make our operations more efficient."

Hoscheit, who represents St. Charles, said the circuit court clerk building should ultimately be sold back into a retail use. But that would mean moving in the opposite direction of more intense use and expansion of the circuit court clerk facility the county board decided on two years ago.

"I have a very hard time swallowing this," county board member Cristina Castro said. "Where was this discussion when we spent all the money we spent on the Montgomery Ward campus? Shouldn't we have done this option then?"

Hoscheit responded he's not in favor of expanding the circuit court clerk building. Court staff members have also said the site doesn't have enough parking to handle increased use.

The committee agreed to spend the $313,000 for design work on a judicial center building expansion. Castro was the lone "no" vote.

Court system staff members also won favor of another major initiative Wednesday. The county board committee approved the use of the Public Safety Sales Tax as a partial funding mechanism for a technology upgrade for the entire county legal system. The only cost estimate for the project remains at $12.6 million.

The full county board must still vote on both proposals.

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