Public addressed on proposed sales
tax and use for the Logan Courthouse
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[March 05, 2020]
On Sunday, March 1, a town hall style meeting was held in the Alumni
Room at Lincoln College’s Myers Evans Student Center. Logan County
is proposing a $.50 sales tax per $100 to help with the Logan County
About 40 community members were there to learn more about the
upcoming tax referendum. This meeting was one of several recent ones
around the county.
Six Logan County Board members were there to answer people’s
questions. Those in attendance included Building and Grounds
Committee Chairman Dave Blankenship, Board Chairman Emily Davenport,
Vice chairman Scott Schaffenacker, Cameron Halpin, Bob Sanders and
As the meeting began, a thirteen-minute video showing damages around
the almost 115-year-old courthouse was shown.
Restoration Specialist Bill Walter explained the many issues needing
repair. These include a leaky dome, roof internal drain issues,
ceiling tiles falling in, energy loss from leaky windows, boiler
leaks, tiles cracked due to excessive fluctuations in humidity, an
old electrical system and corroded panel boxes.
To alleviate some of the moisture issues and maximize efficiency,
Walter said he wants to put in a climate-controlled HVAC system and
energy management system. Other plans would include upgrading the
lighting, electronic security system upgrades to compliment the
Sheriff’s security program as well as the electrical system. Walter
does not want to push good money at a bad problem.
Logan County Circuit Clerk Mary Kelley has worked at the courthouse
for 42 years. In the video, Kelley said she has seen many repairs
over the years as the board has seen fit and had funds.
Recently, Blankenship said over the years there has been varying
ideas and philosophies. He sees no benefit in blaming past boards
who did the best they could with what they had to work with.
After the video, board members spoke briefly about what the tax
would cover. Davenport said this tax would not apply to food or
It would include items such as gasoline, personal and household
items. Travelers purchases would contribute.
Schaffenacker said it would include automobiles and appliances,
which he would likely buy locally. Schaffenacker said the
referendum seems the most effective mitigation. It would provide
long term corrective action for twenty plus years.
Community members had questions about the $8 million Walter has
projected for needed repairs. Citizens wanted to know when the work
would start and the timeline for completion.
Blankenship said the $8 M is a projected amount. If it comes in at
$8 M and they receive additional funds, any extra revenue will go
into a restricted fund account to provide preventative maintenance
in the future.
Blankenship and Davenport are also pursuing State of Illinois
Capital Bill (for infrastructure) money and have been talking to
Senator Bill Brady and Representative Tim Butler. The Capital Bill
funding is contingent on the referendum passing. If received, those
funds would help offset the total restoration cost, which in turn
ultimately helps build the revenue stream for future preventative
Because the county would have to wait on grants, Blankenship said
the restoration may not start until 2021. If all goes well, he said
the project may be completed in 22 months, though with weather
issues and other possible delays, it could take longer.
For right now the county is in mitigation mode and Blankenship said
they are doing the best they can.
Two previous public safety tax referendums in the past few years
that covered both the courthouse dome repair and safety complex
failed. A few years ago, Blankenship said they were not seeing as
rapid deterioration of the courthouse. His research showed a
facilities tax referendum more accurately fits the task at hand.
Blankenship has encountered a few minimalists that have downplayed
the overall condition of the building, but said the video clearly
shows otherwise. For example, if the County Board opts to repair the
dome only, the cost projection is just over $2 M dollars, which is
only 25 percent of the total projected restoration cost, which would
leave three-fourths of the disrepair not addressed or at best
subjected to a sporadic piecemeal approach.
In his opinion project completion is paramount, adding such an
approach ‘piecemeal work’ would greatly increase the cost to the
taxpayers, which simply does not make good economic sense.
Blankenship said the county’s employees and constituents deserve
better than that.
When asked about the Safety Complex concerns, Blankenship said that
by going out for two distinctly different referendums the County
Board has in a sense placed the prioritization of these matters in
the hands of the people. In addition, this is perhaps exactly the
reason we should not take on a partial repair or “piecemeal”
approach versus a total restoration.
If the referendum does not pass, that will likely increase the
financial pressures on the county. Financial pressure may have a
detrimental effect on the county’s ability to address the latest
standards and services in a timely manner.
With a full courthouse restoration, Blankenship said the county
would most likely realize a generous savings in utility costs. It
could also reap additional savings from consolidating other county
departments into the courthouse should the board choose to proceed
down that path.
The referendum has a 20-year sunset clause, which former board
member Gene Rohlfs said means the tax would not last forever.
Sanders said the time could be reduced if everything is paid for.
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When asked why the tax is for 20 years when projections are sales
tax producing $900,000 a year, Blankenship said that amount is only
a projection and could fluctuate substantially.
Since the facilities tax is dedicated solely to the courthouse
restoration and future maintenance Blankenship said by generating
additional years of tax revenue over and above the cost of the bond
principal and interest would allow the county to build up a reserve
fund balance in the restricted account. This balance would offset
preventative maintenance costs for years to come.
Another question was about the cost of a brand-new building and
Though that was one option initially explored, costs would be much
higher. Blankenship said he had been told by others that had
researched the matter that a new Law and Justice Complex could cost
between $36 and $40 M, which is simply not within our reach at this
Wessbecher said the county would not be saving money by building a
The courthouse is the center of the historic district and Halpin
said tearing it down would mean other businesses in the district
would no longer be eligible for historic preservation grants.
With restoration, Davenport said empty spaces in the basement could
be utilized and the county may be able to sell some other buildings
used for office spaces.
City of Lincoln Treasurer Charles “Chuck” Conzo said Lincoln paid $3
M for the police station on Fifth Street, which used to be a school.
This building was structurally sound and much smaller than the
three-story courthouse, but the cost was almost half of the
courthouse restoration costs.
Like the city of Lincoln Streets, the Lincoln Police Department is
unrelated to county government. For some citizens, there is a
misunderstanding of county versus city responsibilities.
Some had questions about a Plan B if the referendum does not pass,
which was addressed both during and after the meeting.
If the referendum fails, Blankenship said Plan B would be to repair
the dome and “dry in” the building. He said the problem with doing
that is if there is a catastrophic system failure, the county would
have no continuity of government with regard to the building. The
board would likely have to take very costly and time-consuming
measures to resolve the issue. Measures could include relocating
staff and leasing other facilities.
By doing the work in a “piecemeal” way, the costs would go up
exponentially. If that occurs, Blankenship said he doubts such an
approach would continue until restoration is completed.
When asked about funding for a Plan B, Blankenship said the board
would have to secure other means of revenue. He would personally
support budget cuts as opposed to creating revenue through debt.
There have been questions about raising property taxes if the
referendum does not pass, but Blankenship said that option is not
likely because we are a Property Tax Extension Law Limit (PTEL)
County with tax caps. Doing that would place the whole burden on
property owners versus sharing the burden with patrons and tourists
from outside the county that frequent our businesses.
Another question asked why the board did not start sharing
information earlier. Blankenship said the process actually started
months ago and information has been in the media for months. Efforts
are ongoing, but Blankenship said the board must work within
campaign statutes regarding the referendum.
Blankenship and others representatives have spoken twice to the
Veterans Assistance Commission, held four meetings in Atlanta, one
at the Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society, and one at
the Logan County Farm Bureau.
Schaffenacker said he has been going to organizations in Mount
Pulaski and Elkhart and plans to present something in Latham.
He said it is the first time to have just the facility tax with the
sunset clause and there were not meetings held for those attempts at
Board members have also spoken to various other organizations and
units of government and been on the radio.
The results of this activity have yielded endorsements from the VAC,
the Atlanta Township, the Genealogical Society, and the Farm Bureau,
just to name a few.
Someone who worked as the chairman for the committee when the school
tax referendum was voted a few years ago said it would be good to
have a ‘Save the courthouse’ group to help with information.
As another way to share information with the public, you will find a
link in Lincoln Daily News that goes to the videos hosted on the
Logan County website.
Courthouse repair video - Link
Blankenship said there is some merit to pushing hard weeks before
the vote as the referendum would be fresh in people’s minds.
When asked about concerns over the financial condition of the
county, Blankenship said we can surely agree that the outcome of the
vote may or may not be beneficial to the county’s financial
However, not doing anything could be even more costly in the long