Highland News Leader

Illinois’ $15 minimum wage will drastically change the way parks departments do business

Illinois increases minimum wage to $15 by 2025

State Rep. Will Guzzardi toured the state to learn more about what for workers struggling in low-wage jobs. He talked to many SEIU Healthcare members about the work they love and how they struggle to provide for their families.
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State Rep. Will Guzzardi toured the state to learn more about what for workers struggling in low-wage jobs. He talked to many SEIU Healthcare members about the work they love and how they struggle to provide for their families.

Parks and Recreation Department officials in Illinois are studying their budgets after the state legislature approved a $15 minimum wage.

The plan to raise Illinois’ minimum wage over the next six years, which is currently headed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, could change the number of workers cities can hire in departments that rely on hourly employees, due to a dramatic increase in personnel cost.

If signed into law, Illinois’ minimum wage plan would bump the $8.25-an-hour rate to $9.25 on Jan. 1. After moving to $10 on July 1, 2020, it would increase $1 each year until 2025. For workers who work less than 650 hours a year, mainly teens and youth workers, the minimum wage would raise yearly but cap at $13.

Highland Parks Director Mark Rosen said the staggered increase to minimum wages would mean department’s like his would have dramatic changes to their budgets. He said 98 percent of his department is made up of part-time workers and the impact of a minimum wage hike would be immediate.

“I’d like to think we’re probably the biggest part-time employer in Highland,” Rosen said. “So it’s a huge concern.”

Highland’s parks and recreation department has eight full-time employees. The rest are part-time workers who execute park maintenance, work as lifeguards at the pool, run the recreational center and more.

Rosen said if the legislation ends up increasing the minimum wage, it would most likely lead to raising service rates and fewer part-time job offerings. He said the department will most likely have to make cuts and get creative with operations.

Highland City Manager Mark Latham said the city has delayed preparing next year’s budget until the state legislature decides one way or the other. He estimated a wage increase would cost the city $30,000 just over the summer months.

In Belleville, officials also are planning for a possible increase in the minimum wage.

“It will make a huge impact on the Parks and Recreation Department,” said Debbie Belleville, the department’s director.

If the $15 per hour minimum wage is approved, the city would have to raise program fees to help pay the higher wages for part-time workers, Belleville said.

Belleville said her department hires about 50 part-time employees each year. Some work in the winter during volleyball and basketball games while others work during warmer months as umpires or maintenance workers in the city’s park system.

Jason Poole, director of the Belleville Public Works Department, said he usually has 16 seasonal workers at two cemeteries and they earn $10 to $12 per hour. They perform maintenance work at Walnut Hill and Mount Hope cemeteries.

Poole said he will continue to monitor the state’s actions regarding the $15 per hour minimum wage proposal and adjust his budget accordingly.

It would be easier to handle if the increase goes up in stages instead of going up to $15 immediately, he said.

The Illinois Municipal League released a letter this week urging legislators to push back on a one-size-fits-all statewide approach. The organization is pushing for a wage increase that takes into account the “significant economic differences” communities face.

“We ask you, as a legislator representing our cities, towns and villages, to recognize that while $15 per hour may be acceptable for some communities, it has a different and varying impact among regions throughout the state,” the letter reads.

IML Executive Director Brad Cole said municipalities big and small will feel the effect of a $15 minimum wage hike. He said beyond the impact on city budgets and employment, collective bargaining negotiations between cities and employees also could lead to higher wages.

The IML also states the increase would have a negative impact of employers and employees because of the differing economic states of the state’s region.

“An increase to $15 per hour, even over a long period of time, could have a negative impact on many employers and employees in our communities because the dynamics in major metropolitan areas simply do not exist everywhere and cannot be relied on to blunt this added cost.”

Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.