Money saved in DuPage County could be money earned in Kane County as officials in both governments confirmed on Friday early discussions about finding a new home for DuPage's juvenile offenders.
Members of the DuPage County Board's judicial and public safety committee learned earlier this week the county could save about $400,000 a year if it closed its youth home and started sending detainees to Kane's facility in St. Charles.
Otherwise, county officials will need to come up with more money to address a projected $400,000 shortfall in the DuPage County Juvenile Detention Center's operating budget for 2012.
Supporters of the outsourcing idea say the youth home in Wheaton has been underused in recent years. The center, originally built to house 90 youths, has an average daily population of about 24.
Kane County's $11.5 million juvenile detention facility was constructed with 80 beds but long-term capacity of 160. Kane County already contracts with Kendall, DeKalb and McHenry counties to house their juvenile detainees in Kane's facility. Officials don't believe any expansion would be required even with the additional DuPage juveniles.
Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay said any agreement with DuPage County would likely mimic existing agreements that would see DuPage contribute to the costs of a future expansion if it ever proved necessary.
"If DuPage decides to house its juveniles with us it would really be an excellent example for how local governments can pool our resources to meet a demand in a more effective way," McConnaughay said. "We've already been doing this with several other counties for a long time. This is something we're very experienced at. And from a taxpayer perspective, can you imagine how much more costly it would be for people if each county had its own facility?"
Records show it's not cheap for Kane County to run its center. The facility racked up about $2.6 million in expenses in 2010 compared to about $437,000 in revenue.
Chief Judge F. Keith Brown said Friday he's already been in discussions with DuPage County officials about the unused space he has at the juvenile center.
"We are a regional facility," Brown said. "Because of the economy of scale, the more people you bring into the location, the cheaper you can do it. We provide a very high-quality product. We have the capacity and the availability to handle more people than we have, which would help defray some of our cost. I am supportive of any county that wants to bring more people into our facility."
But one DuPage judge warned board members this week that closing the DuPage youth home would be a mistake.
"I'm here to tell you it's better than any other county in the state of Illinois," said Judge Robert Anderson, the presiding judge of the domestic relations division. "So if we want to send our kids to get lesser care, then close our facility."
However, DuPage board member Paul Fichtner said he hasn't seen anything to prove that Kane's facility isn't up to par with the DuPage youth home.
"I understand the pride that DuPage judges have in this program," Fichtner said. "But I am sure that same pride exists in Kane County."
Unless there is a big difference between the two facilities, Fichtner said DuPage "definitely" needs to consider the outsourcing option.
"It helps both counties," Fichtner said. "It's a form of government cooperation and consolidation that needs to be looked at."
DuPage board member Robert Larsen agrees. He recently toured the Kane facility and said it offers programs that are "substantially similar" to those at DuPage's youth home. And while there are logistical issues involved with transporting DuPage's detainees between St. Charles and the courthouse in Wheaton, Larsen believes those issues can be addressed.
"If we can save $400,000 or what I believe will be more than that on a yearly basis while providing basically the same services," Larsen said, "it makes sense for the taxpayers of DuPage County."