Lawrence M. Walsh
SPRINGFIELD – The Will County Board now has the authority to impose court fees to help pay for construction of a new courthouse.
House Bill 5889, sponsored by state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, and Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, was signed into law Tuesday.
It’s estimated that the fees could raise between $1.5 and $2 million a year for the project, depending on the fee structure, which would be set by the county board.
Under the measure, the county board can adopt a fee of up to $30 on civil and criminal cases that require a court appearance. The money collected can only be used for a new courthouse and courtroom construction.
“If the county board chooses to adopt the fee, this will provide a sure revenue stream for construction of a badly needed new courthouse,” McGuire said Wednesday.
The user fees, which cannot exceed $30, would be imposed on both parties in civil cases at the time of the first pleading and on defendants who plead guilty in criminal cases. It would not apply in traffic, conservation or ordinance cases when fines are paid without a court appearance.
“It will apply to enough cases to make a real difference,” Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt said. “It means that much less funding will be needed from the county. It’s a fair fee.”
The fee establishes a stream of revenue for the new courthouse, McGuire said.
“It is born by users of the courthouse, rather than all Will County taxpayers,” he said.
A new courthouse is expected to cost between $140 and $200 million. County officials currently are discussing a mix of revenue sources to finance the construction.
The courthouse will most likely be built where the First Midwest Bank, 50 W. Jefferson St., currently stands. The county bought that site earlier this year intending to build a new courthouse there.
The county board has also hired Darien-based Wight & Company to complete preliminary design work for a new courthouse. The company is in the process of developing a concept plan, construction cost estimates, and county population projections.
The fees will go into effect Jan. 1 and Schoenstedt expects the county board will pass the ordinance to collect them within the next two months.