CHARLESTON -- The Coles County Board's chairman defended a bond issue for courthouse repairs as a needed expense that came with "due diligence" toward reducing costs.

Chairman Mike ZuHone called the bond issue "unavoidable" during the board's meeting Tuesday, when members voted on the final approval of the bond issue.

The board also heard questions from the public about why a referendum vote on the bond issue wasn't required.

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ZuHone said the planned amount of the bond issue was reduced by $150,000 from its original estimate. He said that led to a four-year repayment period instead of five years with a corresponding interest savings.

"The people working on this are trying to cut expenses," he said. "It was unavoidable. We have such issues that will be so detrimental."

Tuesday's vote followed one in August on the board's intent to issue the bonds and a required public hearing on the matter that took place last month.

While the total authorized amount was $600,000, ZuHone said the amount needed is actually estimated at $450,000. The county is issuing the bonds to fund repairs to the courthouse's handicapped accessible entrance elevator, roof and guttering.

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David Pistorius, vice president with First MidState Inc., the investment firm handling the bond issue, told the board the lack of public petitions calling for a referendum meant the county has up to three years to issue the bonds.

By approving a total possible issue of $600,000, additional money for contingencies "is still going to be out there for you for the balance of three years."

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James DiNaso of the Concerned Taxpayers of Coles County group commented that the public might not have known about the period during which the referendum petitions could have been submitted.

While board members never mentioned the referendum option during meetings at which they discussed the bond issue, that information was included in a legal notice published in the Journal Gazette & Times-Courier on Aug. 17.

DiNaso questioned the extent to which the newspaper notice would have reached the public.

Bob Williams, the newspaper's interim publisher, attended the meeting and said an online search of legal notices is available without a newspaper subscription. The site is www.publicnoticeillinois.com.

Pistorius said the sales tax revenue and other revenue the county has designated for the bond payments should be "more than enough" to cover the payments.

The county plans to use revenue from sales tax and from two Illinois income taxes of which local governments receive a portion. Property taxes would be used only if those sources don't cover the expense, Pistorius said.

He said the bonds' interest rate will be 3.65% and annual payments will range from about $158,000 to $174,000.

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Also in response to public questions, ZuHone said the county's use of sales tax revenue for the work won't affect how much sales tax school districts or other local governments receive.

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Contact Dave Fopay at (217) 238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave



Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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