Eight months after the DuPage County Board made a highly controversial decision to close the county youth home, DuPage's chief judge is calling the move "a financial grand slam."
Chief Judge John Elsner on Tuesday told members of the county board's judicial and public safety committee that taxpayers will save "millions of dollars" because the county is sending youth detainees to Kane County's regional facility in St. Charles.
"I will leave it to the accountants to tell you how many millions," Elsner said.
However, Elsner pointed out that the partnership with Kane this year is expected to save DuPage an estimated $1.9 million.
Keeping the youth home open would have cost DuPage about $3.2 million annually. But now, Elsner said he's requesting a $1.3 million budget for the next fiscal year to pay for housing youth offenders.
County board member Paul Fichtner said the amount of money saved through the deal has exceeded expectations.
"This bodes well for future partnership possibilities within other areas of the county," said Fichtner, who is chairman of the board's finance committee. "Just as important, youth offenders are still provided with a quality program to help change their lives and protect the residents of our county."
Before the county board took a final vote in November, a group of residents and law enforcement officials fought to keep the youth home open. Some county board members even proposed a budget amendment that would have given the facility extra funding, but the measure was defeated by a 10-8 vote.
Elsner said the board members who opposed the closure did "a great service."
"They brought up concerns that needed to be addressed," Elsner said. "These concerns were addressed in the Kane County contract."
He added that the arrangement with Kane is "going smoothly."
Meanwhile, DuPage is expected to vote soon on a plan to lease part of the former youth building to a school that helps young people with severe behavioral, emotional and learning disorders.
If approved, Joseph Academy would pay DuPage a total of $560,000 over the next four years to rent about 14,000 square feet at the facility.
Joseph Academy is a nonprofit organization helping students in Lake and Cook counties. The academy, which partners with school districts that refer students to its program, now wants to expand into DuPage.
"This is just another win-win," county board member Robert Larsen said of the lease plan. "It allows us to use that space to assist the students and troubled youth in some of these school districts."