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'There is no plan B' for Franklin County courthouse

  • Merchants from around Franklin County united in opposition to the proposed courthouse sales tax, which failed by a large margin in Tuesday's election.

    Merchants from around Franklin County united in opposition to the proposed courthouse sales tax, which failed by a large margin in Tuesday's election.
    Photo by Holly Kee

 
BY GEOFFREY RITTER
gritter@localsouthernnews.com
Posted on 4/6/2017, 5:00 AM

Franklin County won't see a new courthouse anytime soon "unless something drastically shifts," one county board member said Wednesday, a day after voters roundly rejected a sales tax hike to replace the county's 140-year-old courthouse.

"There is no plan B," County Board member Tom Vaughn said Wednesday. "I wasn't making that up. We have a budget that has no extra revenue. We don't have any money to invest in it. Illinois has no money. We're like orphans out here."

Such is the reality that follows Tuesday's referendum vote, which saw nearly two-thirds of voters pass on a proposal to levy a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a new $20 million courthouse. County officials said the 1 percent sales tax would have expired in no more than 20 years, but their arguments ran headlong into business-minded opposition that agreed with the need for a new courthouse, but rejected to raising taxes to pay for it.

"We just can't raise taxes to do it," County Seat Antique Mall owner Ken Burzynski told the Evening News after Tuesday's vote was tallied. "We have to find another way."

Now, however, some county leaders say there is no other way -- and they say they are unlikely to ask taxpayers for the money via a sales tax referendum again.

" We'll just have to listen to the people," County Board Chairman Randall Crocker said Wednesday. "I understand people's thoughts, and we will try to honor those."

Tuesday's referendum failure followed a similar experience in 2015, when voters recected a .25 percent sales tax bump to pay for maintenance on the existing courthouse. Vaughn said widespread anti-government sentiment contributed to the failure of the most recent effort.

"A lot of people have a mentality that is very against government spending," Vaughn said. "But this was the game. We really thought this was the best approach. I don't think there is another plan."

Crocker said selling bonds to pay for a new courthouse is not feasible and would be "a monumental project for us," and Vaughn said research has found there to be little in the way of grant funding available to counties for such projects.

Crocker said that until another option surfaces, county leaders will just have to hope for the best. They have little other choice.

"I just hope nothing major happens in the coming months or years," Crocker said.