WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT/JOBS CREATION
DuPage United has spent the past two years studying a serious mid-skill jobs gap in DuPage County’s manufacturing sector, educating the public via presentations at our member institutions and other civic organizations, and building a solution in cooperation with the county and local manufacturers.
The jobs gap: Manufacturing has become a major presence here. Some 52,000 people now work in this sector. About a fourth of them will retire within the next ten years. Replacing them will be a difficult and ongoing problem. Even now about a third of existing openings are unfilled. The reason is that most applicants don’t have the technological expertise needed in today’s computer-based manufacturing.
At issue are more than just manufacturing jobs. Each new job in manufacturing creates four to six other jobs, including positions in legal and clerical support services, in materials suppliers, and in wholesale/retail enterprises.
Thus, closing the manufacturing jobs gap is an important part of ensuring a positive economic future for DuPage County.
Resources: Excellent technology education facilities such as College of DuPage and the Technology Center of DuPage are available. But they are underutilized, principally because many young people -- and their parents – just aren’t interested. They don’t see the long-term benefits of a career in manufacturing.
In addition to educational resources, money is available. Job development funding can be had from a number of public and private sources.
A story about how the public sector can react when the civic sector insists on a place at the table.
In 2008 our local community college, College of DuPage, or COD, got a new president whose priorities were not in sync with those in our member institutions. At the same time the economy worsened and demographics were changing, COD was spending $2 million on new landscaping, while increasing tuition and decreasing programs that served low income residents.
Like most of our issues, this bubbled up from our institutions. Since 50% of the COD budget (that’s $75 million) came from local property taxes, we figured we should have a say in how it was spent. We organized a series of speakers to appear before the Board of Trustees to voice our shared concerns about budget priorities and program cuts.
To say our input was not welcome is an understatement. In a private meeting between the COD President and our leaders, we were told very harshly NOT to continue to appear before the Board during Public Comment, but to bring our concerns directly to him. We politely rejected that request, telling him that we preferred to air our concerns publicly before our elected officials.
When COD proposed to drastically cut back on free English as a second language (ESL) classes because they were “draining the budget”, DuPage United organized not only our institutions, but also ESL students and other community groups as well. Again, during Public Comment before the Board over several months, we promoted the need for more not less ESL classes, saying we viewed the cost as a positive local investment in a common language that benefited not just the students, but the entire community—medical workers, police, firefighters, educators, employers, retailers.
When we continued to meet resistance, and with 66 classes on the chopping block for Spring 2010, we quickly gathered 2600 signatures in two weekends at several of our member institutions and presented them at the next Board meeting to show the depth of community sentiment. The classes were restored.
But our work was not done. Over the next year the administration found other ways to significantly decrease enrollment, mostly through scheduling changes that made it less likely for a class to attract the required number of students. Citing lack of space during remodeling, and after rejecting DuPage United offers of free alternate space, the summer schedule was cut 85% in 2011, and popular intense classes were cut from the fall schedule.
This time we met with the new Dean of Continuing Education, who told us it was a matter of money. He said the program was costing $1 million of local money in addition to state and federal grants.
We have learned how to follow money, and though it took some sleuthing, DuPage United was able to prove that COD was receiving $1 million more in state and federal grants than it was spending on the program. NO local money was being used.
In fact, $1 million of grant money that was generated by ESL enrollment was being diverted to other uses at COD.
The intense classes were restored by spring 2012. Free textbooks were added as well.
Here’s the lesson: If DuPage United had not claimed a seat at the table from 2008 to the present, the free ESL program would be gone. We had to withstand a great deal of tension because this was adversarial. We will probably never have a good relationship with the current president because he sees no use for input from our sector, even calling us “meddling outsiders”. However, we have a solid working relationship with the Dean of Continuing Education who saw his budget increase as a result of our work.
Debbie Fulks 2012
GOVERNMENT REFORM & DUPAGE COUNTY FOREST PRESERVE
Since 2011, DuPage United has been working with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to help ensure that DuPage County’s precious natural resources are managed with financial and operational transparency. Among the issues researched by DuPage United are the District’s large reserve fund, commissioners’ salaries and benefits, and departmental performance measurement policies.
Several seats on the Board of Commissioners were in play during the county elections of November 2012. Shortly before the election we invited the candidates for open positions on the Board to a DuPage United Delegate Assembly. Several candidates attended. Each was asked to pledge, if elected, to support adoption of a formal reserve fund policy; to support an ongoing internal audit process of the day-to-day operations; to support bringing the salaries and benefits of the commissioners in line with those of forest preserve districts in nearby counties; to implement performance measurement policies for all of the district’s departments; and to pass an ordinance for stricter procurement standards and prohibition of campaign contributions by those with current or pending business with the District.
Three new Commissioners were elected in the November 2012 election. Jack Hogan has been promoted from Director of Finance to CFO and Arnold Biondo was hired as CEO in January 2014. With key new people at the Forest Preserve, there are new practices in place. Primarily, with little open land in DuPage County, the Forest Preserve is in a transition period, shifting away from acquiring land to connecting people with the land.
As a result of this work by DuPage United, the Forest Preserve District will be writing a one-page reserve statement describing their reserve policies, and the statement will be placed on their web site. The District hired an outside firm to conduct an audit of the Finance Department, a company was brought in to assess the organizational structure, and operational assessments are currently being done in all areas of the organization. The district is revising and updating policies and procedures as a result of these assessments and audit. Salaries of Commissioners and the President have decreased, but we have been told they won’t mirror the salaries of other collar counties since other collar counties haven’t split their county board from their forest preserve board. Performance objectives and measurements will be in place for all departments by the end of 2014. DuPage Forest Preserve is in the process of making purchasing and procurement policies and procedures simpler and smarter. The Forest Preserve will make purchasing decisions through consortiums that vet vendors for specific products rather than buying through complicated bid processes.
DuPage United is pleased with the improvements the Commissioners and staff of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County are making. We will continue to monitor their progress with DuPage United’s recommendations.
History and Background on the DuPage Water Commission
(Or “How the DWC Blew a $100 million Reserve in Two Years”)
1. In 1984 a state law created the DuPage Water Commission (DWC) to bring Lake Michigan Water to DuPage County. Commissioners were appointed by municipalities and the county board.
2. A 1985 referendum allowed the DWC to issue $150 million in bonds and to collect a ¼ cent sales tax* to meet the bond obligations.
3. Sales tax revenues far exceeded the bond payments of $13 million per year (last payment: March 2011). By 2009 DWC had collected about $650 million in sales tax, with no strings attached and no accountability to the taxpayer.
4. By the 1990’s the excess sales tax was generating so much extra money that DWC was able to reimburse Charter Members everything they had originally invested in the infrastructure.
5. In 2003 legislation required DWC to transfer $15 million, or about half of the sales tax income, to the county each year for five years. Even so, DWC reduced rates, ran operating losses…and still had a budget surplus each year!
6. By 2007 when DuPage got involved, DWC was running a $17 million loss from operations, giving away water to the Charter Members at below cost and using the sales tax from all of DuPage to balance their books and add to a huge reserve of $100
7. It was clear that DWC no longer needed the sales tax, which generated about $34 million per year.
8. DWC could have given up the sales tax in April 2007 and still satisfied its obligations by:
--Running the regular operations at least at breakeven, rather than at a loss, i.e. charging DWC
customers** what it really costs to supply them with water. There were sufficient reserves to move
to breakeven over a few years.
--Earmarking part of the bloated reserve to pay the final four payments on the bond for which voters
approved the sales tax in 1985.
9. Instead, faced with the embarrassing evidence that it no longer needed the sales tax, the DWC (which operates autonomously and without accountability), guaranteed it could keep the sales tax by:
--Passing yet another rate decrease to reduce the reserve by generating larger operating losses
[Note: Most Charter Members did not pass the rate reduction on to their own residents.
Rates paid by the Charter Members decreased 36% from 1993 to 2008, but residential rates
increased an average of 18% as towns used water income to balance their own budgets.]
-- Giving away $40 million in cash to the Charter Members, no strings attached, which reduced both
the reserve and future investment income.
10. Since Water Commissioners included four mayors, a former mayor, and a Director of Public Works from Charter Member communities, it was in their self-interest to continue to collect the sales tax from all over DuPage and divert it to their communities in the form of discounted water rates and rebates.
11. By not earmarking the surplus to pay off the bond, further discounting a water rate that had been producing operating losses since 2005, and blatantly giving $40 million away, DWC set itself on a fiscally irresponsible course, with mounting losses from operations:
--FY2005: -$ 7.7 million
--FY2006: -$ 13.7 million
--FY2007: -$ 17.1 million
--FY2008: -$ 22.2 million
--FY2009: -$ 26 million (est)
12. DuPage United made numerous attempts to stop the rebates from happening and argued that DWC should be operating as an ongoing operation, without the need for a sales tax. Many representatives of member institutions attended and spoke at DWC meetings in February and March 2007. Op-eds and letters to the editor were published. All DuPage state legislators, county board members and water commissioners were contacted as well as the Attorney General and media, but no one wanted to challenge the mayors and managers of DuPage County.
13. By 2009 DWC was OUT OF CASH and needed to take out loans to pay bills. At the November 2009 DWC meeting, it was publicly acknowledged that the Commissioners had no idea where the last $20 million of the reserve went.
14. Between April 2007 and July 2009, the entire $100 million dollar reserve disappeared—a $40 million give-away, huge operating losses year after year from under-priced water, decreasing revenue from investment income, questionable capital projects, and what was called a “budget snafu.”
15. In 2010, before being elected County Chairman, then Senator Dan Cronin got state legislation passed that
required all Commissioners to resign and enacted a sunset on the DWC sales tax in 2016...8 years and
$250 million later than it could have been eliminated had they followed DuPage United
recommendations in 2007. DuPage United leaders testified in Springfield in support of that bill.
16. By the end of 2014, the new DWC Commissioners, some of whom were given an orientation to
problems at DWC by DuPage United leaders, had paid off all loans and bonds, were operating
DWC without losses and were on track to eliminate the sales tax as mandated in 2016.
* The WC collects the sales tax on all purchases (except food and drugs) made in DuPage County, regardless of whether a community gets Lake Michigan water or not.
** Note that “customers” of the WC are the government units that purchase the water for their residents. Residents do not buy water directly from the WC.
¹From p.21 of the DuPage Water Commission’s FY2007 audited financial reports.
DuPage United 12/2/2009