Board members authorize more than $4M in bonds for City Plaza
• News and notes from the July 22 Winnebago County Board meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
Winnebago County Board members voted 23-2 July 22 in favor of issuing $4,090,000 in bonds related to the purchase and renovation of City Plaza at 555 N. Court St. in Rockford.
Last December, board members gave the nod to buy the four-story facility for its $775,000 market value so the Health Department can consolidate three of its leased locations into the building. The purchase price was just the tip of the iceberg, however, because necessary upgrades are expected to cost millions of dollars.
Originally, the county was prepared to agree on a price of $860,000, but Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) said a new appraisal resulted in the lower offer to the creditors of bankrupt Commercial Mortgage & Finance, which owned the building. Despite the reduced price, some board members argued the purchase was not a good deal on a number of levels.
Prior to the vote to buy City Plaza, majority leader Frank Gambino (R-14), a Realtor and developer, argued, “We’re gonna increase our commitment to that [$775,000] to close to $4 million,” referring to renovations. He added, “That building probably will not be worth any more than about a million-and-a-half, so we will be over-improving a building, no matter what we pay for it.”
Kyle Logan (R-3), another critic early on, argued the county was simply buying too large a building for what the Health Department needs, and that it would be preferable to keep the property generating taxes on the private market.
Public Health Administrator Mike Bacon responded that consolidation in City Plaza was the least expensive of the options considered by the department. He also indicated 60 percent of the purchase price would be paid through grant dollars, while fees and property tax support would account for the remaining 40 percent.
Logan, however, felt it would make more sense for the department to lease a more modestly-sized building for the consolidation.
“That would cost the county a ton less than buying and putting all the improvements into it, so there’s more to it than just gaining efficiencies,” Logan asserted. “We’re actually going to be expanding into more space than there currently is, and there’s no doubt about it that you’re going to fill it, which is going to cost the taxpayers more money.”
Wendy Owano (R-5), Steve Schultz (R-2) and John F. Sweeney (R-14) joined Logan and Gambino by voting “no” to the purchase, which was overwhelmingly approved. Opposition by Owano, Gambino and Logan soon waned as subsequent votes were taken regarding other expenditures related to the building. Schultz and Sweeney, however, have remained consistent in resisting the spending.
In March, board members awarded a no-bid contract, totaling $245,500, to Richard L. Johnson Associates, Inc., for architectural and related services for the remodeling project.
In April, Schultz and Sweeney also voted against additional allocations in the budget related to City Plaza. $119,585 was earmarked for various supplies and services, while $1,805,000 was allocated to cover the purchase of the building and related expenses.
July 8, Schultz and Sweeney were the only board members to vote against a $405,464 expenditure for replacement of heating and cooling systems for the building.
Before the county can proceed with the bond issuance, a public hearing must be held regarding the “backdoor referendum,” according to the ordinance adopted July 22. The hearing will be Aug. 26.
Notice of the proposed bond sale is to be published in The Rockford Journal on or before Aug. 19. The issue could be forced to an actual referendum Nov. 2, however, if a minimum of 7.5 percent of county voters sign a petition to that end. The petition must be submitted to the county clerk within 30 days of the published notice.
By honoring existing leases in the building, Bacon said, the county should be able to meet its bond payment obligations.
In related news, board members also awarded a $2,425,000 bid to Rockford Structures Construction, of Machesney Park, for the remodeling project. Schultz and Sweeney voted “no.”
• Supporting the mission of the Neighborhood Enhancement Alliance Team (NEAT), which focuses on neighborhood watch programs in unincorporated areas of the county.
• Authorizing an intergovernmental agreement with Burritt Township for the jurisdictional transfer of Cemetery Road, between Illinois 70 and Meridian Road, to the township. The county has agreed to seal coat the road, as well as make improvements to the township’s Smith Road, but the township will assume all other maintenance responsibilities. Although the seal coating is expected to cost the county $45,000, and improvements to Smith Road are expected to cost $200,000, officials say the arrangement will eventually result in savings for the county.
• Authorizing a $222,833 modification to a 1998 agreement with McClure Engineering Associates, Inc., for additional engineering services related to the Pecatonica Prairie Path, bringing the contract total to $1,035,050.65.
Rockford Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Ald. Bill Robertson (I-14) on the Winnebago County Board of Health. The term expires in October.
Dorothy Redd (D-6), L.C. Wilson (D-12) and Dave Yeske (R-2) were absent.
Print This Article