Joe Vann, candidate for Mercer County Board District 4, discusses the Public Building Commission.
In 1955 the General Assembly passed the Public Building Commission Act. The idea was to allow municipalities to set up an entity to handle the construction and improvement of public buildings that were considered essential to the conducting of public business. The act gives considerable leeway as to how the Commission operates. Currently, very few counties in Illinois have Public Building Commissions besides Mercer. Many counties have had Public Building Commissions in the past, but they were usually formed for the construction of a single facility and were dissolved once the facility was constructed.
Our own Building Commission was formed in 1985 with the sole purpose of ensuring that the county has a jail that complies with state standards. Here in Mercer County, the Public Building Commission members are all political appointees. The county does not have title to any of the public buildings constructed with funds from the county taxpayers, they are all owned by the Public Building Commission, who LEASES the buildings to the county at an amount that they decide. The Public Building Commission can construct whatever it chooses and borrow and issue bonds without approval of the County Board or a referendum from the taxpayers. That is how a jail far bigger than the needs of the county was constructed. I still don’t see how housing prisoners from other jurisdictions is an essential public purpose.
The Public Building Commission is currently considering borrowing an additional $1.5M to make upgrades to the County Court House. These upgrades may in fact be needed. It is a very old building. However, shouldn’t the taxpayers be given the option of deciding whether they want to be on the hook for this loan to improve a building they don’t, in fact, own but only rent? Perhaps the time has come to dissolve or restructure the Public Building Commission. It seems to have outlived its usefulness and become a burden rather than an aid to the county.
Joe Vann, New Boston
Mercer County Board District 4 Candidate