DuPage approves budget; keeps promise to museum

Updated 11/23/2010 5:41 PM

DuPage County will keep its promise to help a popular children's museum in Naperville, despite an effort by some to remove the $250,000 pledge from the county's budget.

County board members Tuesday approved a spending plan that achieves balance by forgoing pay raises for most county employees and eliminating dozens of vacant positions.

Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said the roughly $444 million budget has the county "well-positioned" for fiscal 2011, which starts Dec. 1.

"We are not eliminating any programs," Schillerstrom said. "All programs will continue to function. Obviously, we've streamlined a few, which we believe is our job.

"Even in streamlining these programs," he added, "they will continue to provide the high level of service that the people of DuPage County have come to appreciate."

Still, several board members objected to the budget including $250,000 to help Naperville purchase the DuPage Children's Museum.

County board member Grant Eckhoff said the museum at 301 N. Washington St. is "a fine organization" that provides "many good services" for residents. But there also are other similar organizations that need funding, he said.

James Healy, a county board member from Naperville, said what makes the children's museum unique is it provides an economic boost to DuPage while serving about 300,000 visitors a year.

Supporters also point out the county's contribution is a small part of the overall deal. Naperville put in $3 million while the state contributed $1.94 million. Private donors have pledged between $750,000 and $1 million.

Schillerstrom said it's "a perfect example" of governmental and private entities working together to eliminate the museum's debt and give it "an opportunity to continue to operate in the black."

In addition to approving funding for the children's museum, officials defended plans to lay off nine employees as part of a downsizing of the DuPage County Juvenile Detention Center.

Jodi Bozzelli, a probation officer, said she's concerned because eliminating positions at the youth home in Wheaton could result in some probation officers and counselors losing their jobs.

"What we do every day across the yard here is to try and keep the communities within this county safe," she said. "And we do that because it's important to us to help people. We got into this business to help people."

But county officials say the restructuring is needed because the facility has been underutilized. Built in the mid-1990s to house 90 youths, the center had an average daily population of 22 youths last year.

"It just didn't make sense to have a bunch of people over there without things to do," Schillerstrom said. "So we configured the youth home so it would function better with fewer residents."

The youth home restructuring plan will bring the total number of employees working at the facility down to 29. It also will reduce the number of beds to 32. The center's existing 64-bed "tower" will be used by the sheriff's work release program.

Another way the county budget holds the line on spending is by having no raises for most county employees for the second straight year.

Only union workers and sheriff's office employees will receive raises as part of their contracts.

While the overall budget was reduced compared to last year, Schillerstrom said DuPage still has "very substantial reserves." One of the two reserve funds is expected to end the year with about $48 million, he said.