JOLIET – Members of the Will County Board of Health approved a resolution Wednesday urging County Board members to fill the financial gap caused by the state’s budget crisis amid pending layoffs and program suspensions.
The Will County Board is set to vote Thursday during an emergency special meeting on whether to provide $426,873 in relief to the health department to keep afloat its adult behavioral health, crisis response and juvenile justice programs.
If no action is taken, dozens of union employees will be laid off, effective May 27, and thousands of clients will go without critical services. The resolution asks the County Board – which loaned the health department $3 million in April to stave off a cash flow problem – to defer $426,873 of that loan until fiscal 2017. The department intends to repay the loan in three installments once property tax revenues come in.
“I thought it was important for the board to go on record as establishing how the money will be paid back in this inter-fund loan,” board President James Zelko said.
Dave Delrose, a representative for union employees, asked that health board members consider a larger request to save additional programs and positions.
“I have to stand here and say as a representative of [union employees] that all the work that we do here is important. I think some of the employees feel that what they do is getting lost here, and they are not seen as valuable,” Delrose said.
The $426,873 loan would avoid 18 layoffs through Nov. 30, the end of the county’s fiscal year. A second proposal seeking $1.7 million to restore all positions and programs was presented to County Board members last week, but there was little support for that.
Saying the department has fallen victim to Springfield’s budget crisis, Zelko told Delrose he “doesn’t see another way out of this,” suggesting the department has provided services without state support for far too long.
“But we were hopeful. We were trying to be optimistic and protective of the services that the community needs. The community will suffer. The department will suffer. No one is ever going to look at the Health Department in the same way. … It’s never going to be the same,” Zelko said. “This is not something we choose to do lightly.”
Without action from the County Board or Illinois government, about 45 employees are expected to be laid off.
“We wouldn’t be here if [Illinois] had a budget,” Zelko said. “The uncertainty of whether or not, when there is a budget, we will still be able to recover monies from the state is questionable. … We need to be prudent. We can’t run ourselves into bankruptcy.”
Zelko said state grants, for years, have seriously underfunded programs.
“We can’t do everything for everybody. We don’t have the money,” Zelko said.