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Jacksonville Feels The Cut From State Government


No surprise: Illinois’ finances are in trouble.  And the fix will likely involve some painful cuts.

Whilewe told you about the fight to save one southern Illinois institution, in this segment we look at what happened when the knife came down on another Illinois town, Jacksonville. 

For almost 50 years Jacksonville, Illinois was home to a Capitol Records plant. It was built in 1965 - at the height of Beatlemania.  At its peak Capitol employed more than 1 thousand people.

EZARD: Capitol records made CDs, well, no one listens to CDs anymore.

Andy Ezard is the mayor of this Central Illinois town - about 35 miles west of Springfield. By 2009 the Capitol plant and distribution center had closed. That year, in just 6 months! Jacksonville’s unemployment rate leaped from 6.6 percent up to 9.6.

EZARD: We’ve lost a lot of jobs these past 10 years.

Jacksonville was hurting.

The state of Illinois was in trouble too - the deficit was almost 45 billion dollars - and Gov. Pat Quinn set out to cut costs.  

In campaign ads this year Quinn boasts that he’s closed 50 state properties as governor.  One of them was a big state institution in Jacksonville that served people with developmental disabilities.

Mayor Ezard and the Jacksonville residents fought hard to keep the center open.

But they lost -- and in November of 2012 the state of Illinois moved the last residents out of the Jacksonville Developmental Center.

There’s still a  debate over whether it’s been good or bad for the residents with severe developmental disabilities - but for the city it’s meant losing 440 more jobs.

By January of 2013 - Jacksonville’s unemployment rate had jumped up to 11 percent.

EZARD: Those aren’t just Jacksonville jobs, we had a big mix of people which came into this region which in turn gave us sales tax and really helped us out.

REPORTER: I’m standing in front of the main building of the now-closed Jacksonville Developmental Center. It’s a pretty idyllic morning here,.

BAPTIST: And what’s it doing, it’s sitting up in weeds. That’s a hundred acres of prime Jacksonville property that’s not being used.

Travis Baptist gathers with his friends most mornings at the McDonalds across Morton Avenue from the vacant Jacksonville center.

Morton is the biggest road in Jacksonville - it connects the town to the highway.

BAPTIST: This town is so small and we’ve lost Capitol Records, the State Hospital, places have closed. And if they keep closing they’re gonna kill the town.

The looming property across the street serves as a constant reminder of the state’s role in all this.

Most of the people I talked to were indignant about the center closing, and they worried about the fate of the residents.

But I was impressed with how thoughtful they were. No one expected an easy fix.

EZARD: Yeah I understand the state’s broke, and I really don’t have the proper response but it basically comes down to fairness and where you provide the money.

To Ezard and Baptist that fairness boils down to the site on Morton Avenue.  You can take those 400 jobs they say, you can kick us when we’re down. But those 100-acres of nothingness are your mess and you, the state of Illinois, should have to clean it up.

EZARD: If I were sitting with Gov. Quinn or Mr. Rauner I would say, I think you made a mistake here but since the mistakes already been made can we get some help here with redevelopment of that property?

Ezard’s looking for state money to demolish the buildings - they have asbestos and will be costly to tear down.

Or he wants some tax incentives to get a private company to take it over.

Ezard thinks with a little help they could turn those 100-acres from an ugly reminder to a symbol of rebirth.

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