Mayor: Water at Menard prison could be shut off due to unpaid utilities

RAW Video: Interview with Chester, IL mayor

CHESTER, IL (KFVS) - The mayor for the City of Chester, Illinois is hoping the years' worth of unpaid utilities from its state run facilities will be paid soon.

"The state has not paid us for their utilities for the Menard Correctional Center or the Chester Mental Health Facility, coming to a total of 1.3 million dollars," Tom Page, mayor of the City of Chester, said. "It's been incredibly difficult, we've had to transfer from one fund to another, and we've basically had to put the brakes on all new initiatives."

Page said the city has not worked on any new initiatives and has done the minimum to fix things that are broke, but haven't done any new projects.

"Doing anything new, like putting a new roof on our water plant, which needs to be done, we haven't even started the process yet," he said.

The city budget year starts May 1 and it takes time to formulate a budget for the upcoming year. Mayor Page said it's hard to set a budget when the state isn't paying utilities.

"Being the former warden of Menard, I know what it's like to operate a prison with no water, since I was the warden down there in 1993, during the flood, I understand the complications and not wishing anything like that on your worst enemy," Page said. "But, at some point in time if there's no movement in payment we will have to cut their water off and sewage off."

Mayor Page said a resident couldn't go 60 days without paying their bill and after a year the City of Chester is letting the state facility bills go unpaid.

"I always tell people, if my 84-year-old mother lived in Chester, Illinois and she was 60 days late on her payment, we would turn her water off, Page said. "It wouldn't even be newsworthy, but now we have two major facilities that have gone pretty much a year without paying their bills and we're leaving them on."

Page said if the inmates get relocated to other facilities, the state said it would have to bring the facility, built in 1878, up to code. He said the amount of work that would be done to the facility would be substantial.

"There's almost 1,000 jobs down there that I would be looking at losing and I don't want that to be my legacy, so I'm trying to be as patient as I can, but at some point they are going to have to be treated as we would other folks," Page said.

He said the facility would have to transfer inmates, costing locals their jobs.

"Probably up to half of the residents in Chester work at mental health or Menard correctional facility," business owner Rachel Vasquez said.

She said the decision would greatly impact the town.

"It would slow it down greatly, if not close down doors, it would affect the entire community," Vasquez said.

Page hopes the state will come to a resolution soon. He said treating water is costing the city money, the same way with natural gas. He said the city isn't getting the resources for free. He hopes that the lawmakers session will at least sign money to keep state facilities open.

"It's my understanding that the General Assembly is meeting today, both the House and Senate, they may possibly take up a bill for the food vendors and the utility vendors, us, for the state facilities," he said.

Page said he has no date as to when he would shut the state facilities water off, but it's going to be considered.

"I don't want to lose that population to another facility and I don't want to lose these jobs there's 1,000 very good paying jobs of very good working people and it's no fault of theirs that Menard is in this situation," he said.

Nicole Wilson, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections, issued the following statement on Wednesday:

"The IDOC has been in constant communication with all of its vendors who have not been paid in nearly a year due to the failure of the majority party to pass a balanced budget and enact structural reforms. We are hopeful that the city of Chester, and all of our vendors, will continue to work with us during these challenging financial times."

According to Wilson, as of June 15 there were 874 full-time employees at Menard Correctional Center; and as of Tuesday, June 28, there were 3,518 offenders housed at Menard Correctional Center facilities.

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