Will County executive outlines excess costs for over budget capital projects

The construction of four different projects completed over last few years came in around $7 million over budget, executive says

Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant outlined the multiple capital projects which were completed over the last few years and cost the county more money than expected.

The executive’s office told board members last month it was the construction of the new courthouse that came in over budget. During Thursday’s Will County Board Executive Committee meeting though, she reported it was actually other, smaller projects which were the cause of the excess expenses.

Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, said her office identified instances in which the board approved some invoices without accompanying documentation to determine how the expense related to the total project. There were also county documents related to the cost of projects with inconsistent price information.

“It is not a criticism,” she said. “It is not a complaint. We just found information and we will present it and hopefully moving forward we can answer questions and resolve any missteps in the process.”

Bertino-Tarrant also noted that the County Board approved all expenses so there were no unauthorized expenditures or missing money.

Four different county capital projects completed over the last few years came in over budget, she said.

A new building for the county’s Emergency Management Agency, completed last year, cost about $3.7 million and came in around $755,000 over budget.

The county’s new animal control facility, also completed last year, cost about $3.4 million, around $400,000 over budget.

The Public Safety Complex, which houses the Will County Sheriff’s Office and opened in 2018, cost about $37.5 million, and came in around $3.9 million over budget.

Construction of the new county health department building, which opened last year, cost about $30 million, about $4.6 million over budget.

The county’s largest project, a new courthouse which also opened late last year, actually came in around $1.3 million under budget, with a total cost of around $213 million.

Bertino-Tarrant also outlined a myriad of ancillary costs which were added for each project, like the purchase of new furniture.

In total, the county commissioned bonds for about $276 million between 2016 and 2019 to pay for the projects and other expenses. Bertino-Tarrant said the total cost of the projects came in at about $288 million. After accounting for reimbursements on some expenses, the county was left with about $7.3 million left to pay.

Board member Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort, said when the financing for many of these projects was being planned years ago, the board intended to use around $15 million from its cash reserves to help pay for them. He said it sounded to him like the county never actually used any of its cash reserves on the projects.

“If we would have followed the original financing plan for the projects, we would not be in a deficit position,” Moustis said.

Other members suggested the county utilize a better reporting process for future capital projects to ensure expenses don’t exceed the anticipated costs.

“Definitely a standardized report will be used moving forward for each capital project to help better track the project’s progress, as well as a complete financial picture to board members,” Bertino-Tarrant said.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.