6 examples of how the state budget mess hurts in suburbs
Essie Martin's job includes such tasks as shaving assistance, teaching how to open a potato chip bag and detecting why one of the adults with developmental disabilities she cares for is injuring himself.
At about $11 an hour, Martin's a bargain, a fact her employers at the Ray Graham Association realize as co-workers leave for better pay but that the organization is powerless to fix amid Illinois' budget spiral.
On Wednesday, for the third year in a row, Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislators failed to reach a budget deal.
It caused little surprise but more pain for those who are owed money by the state or whose funding has been cut. At Ray Graham, one out of four jobs caring for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities is vacant, CEO Kim Zoeller said.
"Our rates are so low we cannot hire staff to work at our programs," Zoeller said. Social services have banded together asking for state funding to raise pay averaging $9.35 an hour, without success.
"You're being a psychologist, you're being a nurse, you're being a caregiver, you're being a friend. Why would someone come in and make a little bit more than minimum wage to have the whole world on your shoulder?" asked Martin, a direct support professional.
Her client, Eddie Arroyo, who lives in a Lombard group home, has an answer:
"When I first started here, I didn't know from Point A to Point B. Even when I started doing my laundry I almost flooded the machine. But Essie took the time to help me find where I went wrong."
"My heart goes out to them. The first day I started here I fell in love with them," Martin said.
Owed more than $1 million
Robert Renguso wouldn't say exactly how much he's owed by the state, but it's "more than seven figures."
"We've continued to do the work and wait to get paid," said the owner of Marlin Environmental Consultants, a St. Charles-based underground fuel-storage removal and remediation company.
The funds are supposed to come from motor fuel taxes, but without a budget, there's no appropriation. Instead, piecemeal payments have been made for the work Marlin and many state contractors do.
Marlin went from 28 employees before the budget crisis to just five now.
"And these sites where (underground) tanks are leaking fuel into the ground and water supply are absolutely getting worse," he said.
About 65 percent of the children at Kiddie Junction Educational Institute in Des Plaines used to receive state aid so their parents could afford day care costs.
That number has shrunk to barely 40 percent, Executive Director Robin Nordin said.
The state made it harder for families to get subsidies by raising the income threshold, Nordin said. The money for remaining subsidies comes in partial payments months late.
About 10 fewer students attend the school than before the state budget standoff, with some parents quitting jobs because they can't afford child care, Nordin said.
To avoid raising rates, the center requires families to commit to raising a minimum of $200 in an annual fundraiser. Nordin has come up with other inventive ways to help as well.
When Nicole Roediger told Nordin she no longer could afford to send her daughter to the school because of the subsidy being taken away, Nordin hired Roediger.
"That she even thought of offering me a position here took this huge weight off my shoulders," Roediger said.
Delays cost park district
Roselle Park District was promised nearly $2.5 million in state funds in 2014 to help pay for a $4 million community center.
It's still waiting after grants were put on hold.
To compound problems, the project is more expensive than it was three years ago. So the district paid about $6,000 to redraw plans to fit the funds available. If there's another delay, the district will probably have to redraw the plans again if it wants the money.
"We've had to resubmit plans to the state with scaled-back designs because construction costs go up, which costs us even more money," said Rob Ward, the district's executive director.
"We have not put a shovel in the ground purposefully because the worst case scenario would be for us to be staring at a hole without the funds to finish it."
Enough to plow and police
The budget limbo leaves Bensenville in a "world of uncertainty," Village Manager Evan Summers said. It's a condition towns across Illinois are familiar with now.
Like other suburbs, Bensenville relies on state gas and income taxes to help cover operations. It receives about $2.3 million annually.
Last year gas tax payments were two months late and officials are in doubt about how much income taxes will trickle down in 2017.
"I can keep the roads plowed and police on the road," Summers said. But programs for teens and popular summer music concerts might be sacrificed. "If that state money stops flowing, we'll have to go to the general fund and reallocate, and make some tough decisions."
After layoffs in 2016, Harper College in Palatine is on tenterhooks with a $2.1 million budget shortfall this year.
"We have avoided programming cuts so far but cannot continue to spend down our fund balance," spokeswoman Kimberly Pohl said.
Among its toughest decisions was not to subsidize Monetary Award Program grants for low-income students typically reimbursed by the state but now in jeopardy.
Across the state, undergraduates are uncertain about financial aid.
Bernard Kondenar, 43, a father of three, relies on MAP assistance to pay for tuition at College of Lake County, where he is studying horticulture.
The grant program "is being held hostage," Kondenar said. "It hurts a lot of people and for some it might mean dropping out of school."