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Judicial center mortgage paid off 10 years early

The Ogle County Board held an old-fashioned mortgage-burning Tuesday night with a new-fangled twist.

"You can't really burn anything indoors anymore so we've got a shredder," board chairman Kim Gouker said with a grin as he waved a fistful of documents for the financing of the Ogle County Judicial Center.

The board agreed in November to pay off the $10.3 million debt remaining on the judicial center 10 years early, saving the county an estimated $2.7 million in interest.

The final payment was made Feb. 1.

Gouker had invited former county board chairman Jerry Daws, Forreston, to do the honors.

Daws, he said, was the board chairman when the new judicial center was proposed, approved, planned, and built. 

It was completed in 2005 at a cost of $15 million.

"Jerry created the Long Range Planning Committee in 1998, and I was appointed chairman," Gouker said. "He was the board chairman when we borrowed the money, and tonight we're taking him off the hook."

Daws smiled broadly as he ran the first batch of papers through the shredder. County board members were invited to follow suit.

After the shredding was completed, Daws praised the board for its accomplishment.

"I don't think you can find today a government agency that can pay off anything, let alone early," he said.

The money used to pay for the judicial center bonds came from the Long Range Planning Fund, which was designated by the county board several years ago for major, one-time only expenses that will benefit multiple departments, for land purchases, and for building projects.

Revenues in the fund comes from host fees paid to the county by garbage companies to dump refuse in the county's landfills. That amounts to approximately $3 million annually.

Gouker said that in 2003 when the county issued the bonds to pay for the judicial center, the board promised citizens that their real estate tax bills would not be affected.

"We've done what we said we would do," he said. 

Gouker said the county board has maintained a long-standing tradition of fiscal responsibility.

The county borrowed $100,000 in 1890, he said, to build the current courthouse.

"The old German farmers then said 'boy, we'll never pay that off,' but they paid it off in 12 years in 1902," Gouker said. "Then we went 101 years with no debt [until the judicial center bonds were issued]."

The county board agreed more than a decade ago that the judicial center was needed because the century-old courthouse was overcrowded and no longer efficiently met the county's needs.

Buildings owned by the county were razed across the street to the west of the courthouse to make way for the three-story judicial center, which houses four courtrooms, jury rooms, judges chambers, a law library, and record storage, as well as the offices of the state's attorney, probation department, and circuit clerk. 

Ground was broken in February of 2004 and the new judicial center was open for business in December of 2005.

In a related project, the courthouse was remodeled in 2009-10 to serve as the headquarters for several county offices including the county clerk, treasurer, and animal control on the first floor; recorder, supervisor of assessments and geographic information systems (GIS) on the second floor, and coroner and board chairman on the third floor.

Built in 1891, the courthouse was place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

The $7.5 million cost of the remodeling was also paid from the Long Range Planning Fund.

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