A Kane County commission took the first steps toward committing part of the sales tax dollars it receives for public safety and transportation to a $12.6 million technology upgrade for the county's judicial system Thursday.
The long-discussed project is nearing the stage where the county will actually begin making purchases. The previous county board already agreed to tuck away some of those sales tax dollars at the end of last summer. But members of the new county board and the reconstituted technology commission examining the purchase are looking at ways to pay for the entire project. The first step will likely be committing about 6 percent of the special sales tax for the project. The commission already moved Thursday to sock away about $1.43 million of those tax dollars that are currently not dedicated to any other need.
Now, members of the commission, which includes County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen and Finance Committee Chairman John Hoscheit, must find a long-term funding stream or a bigger one-time payout. Lauzen indicated Thursday there is a chance the county may borrow money through bonds for the project. That decision awaits a time when the commission, and county board, know what the final costs of the upgrade will be.
Hoscheit said he hopes the price tag is far less than $12.6 million.
"There have been various cost estimates thrown about, some of which are astronomical," Hoscheit said. "We don't have money from our general fund to pay for this. This (sales tax) is really the only practical source. And unless we make a commitment to pay for the upgrade, we are spinning our wheels."
The full county board must still approve the long-term dedication of the sales tax proceeds for the project. But the costs are already mounting. Staff in the county's Information Technology department said they will need at least four more employees, at a cost of $442,000 a year, to oversee the project and implement the new system. Once online, the upgrade will enable the courts, public defender, state's attorney and the circuit court clerk's office to share records and generate accurate reports for the first time. Currently, all those offices report an inability to obtain grant money because data they currently keep by hand is inaccurate and unreliable.
The previous county board was hesitant to dedicate a large chunk of the public safety and transportation sales tax to the technology upgrade because there are other big ticket items that money could be used for, such as the long-awaited expansion and parking garage for the judicial center.