JJC plays waiting game with state

Wayne Horne | 3/19/2014, 4:56 p.m.
Construction progress on Joliet Junior College’s City Center Campus in downtown Joliet marked one of the highlights of Mayor Tom ...
Wayne Horne

Construction progress on Joliet Junior College’s City Center Campus in downtown Joliet marked one of the highlights of Mayor Tom Giarrante’s State of the City address last week. The exterior of the building is nearing completion. In a well timed follow-up report given at Monday’s Joliet Pre-Council meeting, Debra Daniels, JJC’s president, gave a brief overview of the construction progress at the main campus on Houbolt Road and then turned her attention to the downtown campus.

Daniels reminded council members that, for now, the building’s exterior would be all that would remain completed. College officials are awaiting $25 million in Capital Development building funds from the state before finishing the building’s interior work. The college has anticipated those funds for nearly 10 years and there is no evidence the money will be forthcoming any time soon given the state’s financial woes. In fact, according to the Illinois Community College Board’s website, a “utility” project for JJC that has been on the waiting list for more than 10 years is still not fully funded.

Kelly Rohder, JJC’s director of communications and exterior relations, recently told a group of downtown business owners that the City Center Campus would be completed in 2016. According to Daniels, the college has the funds available to complete the downtown campus should the state fail in coming through with the money. JJC recently increased tuition to provide money for student club activities and Daniels said tuition costs and property taxes supporting the college are lower than many other comparable community colleges. Is that a forewarning of future increases in property taxes and tuition?

Daniels also said the banquet facility at the Renaissance Center would be closing by year’s end. The facility has been available for public use for more than two decades. It also serves as a venue for the college’s culinary arts students to showcase their talents to the public. Daniels said there is a possibility the Renaissance Center will reopen to the public sometime in 2016, but food would be provided by private caterers.

In other matters, the treasurer’s report provided to the Joliet City Council at this week’s meeting revealed the high cost of this year’s snow removal. The public work’s roadway department has exceeded its overtime budget by 132 percent through the month of February and March’s snow storm is not included in that total. Even if there is no more snow this winter, the budget has to cover November and December of this year, which means the possibility of more overtime costs at the end of 2014. Snow removal overtime costs through February totaled $639,000.

Meanwhile Jim Trizna, the city’s public works director, said the plowing and salting of alleys in Joliet is not in the city’s best interest due to the lack of manpower and the size of snow removal equipment. That’s really what he said. I thought it was just garbage trucks that couldn’t navigate the alleys? For future reference, it might be in your “best interest” that if you park your car in an alley behind your home during the winter, you should plan on leaving it there until the spring.

Snow removal isn’t the only area where Joliet is seeing higher than expected costs. Overtime cost for the Joliet Fire Department through February exceeded 25 percent of the budgeted amount for 2014. Based on the current trend, the fire department will again exceed its budgeted overtime expense by more than $1 million. The city has spent 30 percent of its entire overtime budget as of the end of February. Joliet has budgeted $4.3 million to cover overtime expenses in 2014.

Giarrante pointed out in his State of the City Address that Joliet has 190 fewer full- and part-time employees compared to seven years ago and the city has saved more than $2.5 million per year by providing no raises for non-union personnel. Perhaps the time has come to use the overtime money to hire additional personnel and give raises to non-union employees. Or do we need another study?

One last thing… Congrats to all of Tuesday’s election winners. Only 12.5 months to go before municipal elections in April 2015. Stay tuned…