DuPage, towns trying to reach deal for new field court in Woodridge
Municipalities in southeast DuPage are offering to help the county pay to operate a new traffic court in Woodridge.
But it remains unclear whether that will be enough to prevent the county board from simply closing an existing field court in Downers Grove and moving its cases to the main courthouse in Wheaton.
DuPage officials on Tuesday said negotiations with the municipalities are ongoing.
"I now have directions on how they want me to negotiate this," county board member Jim Healy said after a closed-door discussion with other members. The Naperville Republican said he will meet soon with municipal representatives to see if a deal can be reached.
The county is planning to close the Downers Grove traffic court in an American Legion post by the time the lease expires in February 2023. DuPage officials say the location is no longer viable because of security concerns.
County board members are considering two options. The first is to move the traffic court from Downers Grove to a new police station planned for Woodridge on Janes Avenue north of 75th Street. The second is to bring the cases to the courthouse in Wheaton.
Woodridge and the county have discussed adding a roughly 3,300-square-foot multipurpose space that would serve as a field court and as a community room when court isn't in session.
However, DuPage would need to contribute roughly $1.32 million to pay for the construction of the multipurpose space. It also would need to sign a 20-year lease to use the space.
In total, the Woodridge proposal is estimated to cost the county roughly $6.34 million over 20 years, officials say.
But simply moving cases to the main courthouse in Wheaton would cost the county an estimated $555,237.
"I don't know under what planet anybody thinks that building a building that we don't own -- and then paying rent on that building that we don't own -- is a sound financial decision," board member Sam Tornatore said. The Roselle Republican spoke before the board's finance committee went into closed session.
Mayors and village presidents from southeast DuPage are advocating for the county to open a field court in Woodridge.
They say moving cases to Wheaton would significantly increase costs for their towns because police officers, code enforcement officers and attorneys would spend more time traveling.
County board member Pete DiCianni says he believes DuPage has a fiduciary duty to operate a field court.
"If we make this shift, we're shifting our financial burdens onto the municipalities and our taxpayers," the Elmhurst Republican said. "And that's not fair."
County board member Julie Renehan said she's concerned about making residents take the longer trip to Wheaton.
"Are they going to have to take more time off?" the Hinsdale Democrat said. "Are they going to have to miss a couple hours of work -- miss their hourly wage?"
Healy said on Tuesday that nine municipalities have offered to pay at least 25% of the annual lease cost. He said he hopes to have a proposal the county board could consider in two weeks.
County board member Sadia Covert said she would like the board to consider "the cheapest option" because it's less burden on the taxpayers and doesn't require a long-term deal.
"If we bring it back to Wheaton, we're not relying on anybody," the Naperville Democrat said. "We're funding it ourselves."