Kadner: Money woes in struggling Dolton
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org May 24, 2013 9:56PM
Dolton Mayor Riley Rogers (right) speaks with village manager Clem Balanoff (left) earlier this year. Three former employees appointed by Riley have sued the village for what they say are politically motivated firings. | File photo
Updated: June 27, 2013 6:54AM
Newly elected Dolton Mayor Riley Rogers on Friday assured elderly residents that they would be allowed to live at the Dorchester Senior Center for the rest of his four-year term.
But while the village owns the building, it’s running out of money to maintain it.
Rogers’ announcement came as a surprise because another newspaper had reported that he planned to close the apartment building.
The new mayor discovered upon taking office this month that Dolton has massive debt, according to a source. The word “bankruptcy” was mentioned to me, but no one would talk about that on the record.
And the Dorchester is one of the reasons for Dolton’s financial problems, according to the mayor — draining about $500,000 from the village budget in 2012 and hundreds of thousands of dollars each year during the previous decade.
Management companies have been hired to run the senior building, but questions have arisen about their fiscal accountability.
The 124-room building for people 65 and older has only 60 apartments rented.
Categorized by the state as a supportive living facility for low-income residents, the building’s top rent was recently boosted to $1,300 a month, but most are far less expensive, I was told.
For their money, residents get three meals a day, transportation to shopping, certified nursing assistants available 24 hours a day and laundry service if they wish it.
In recent years, suspicion has grown that the Dorchester was used as a patronage plum for the relatives of mayors.
Victor Shaw, the son of former Mayor William Shaw, was in charge of operating the facility for a time, and the village also awarded him a $1.4 million contract for the Dorchester, part of a $10 renovation project funded by the village.
A federal grand jury is now exploring what happened to that money, and subpoenas have been received by the village.
After Mayor Shaw died, Ronald Lewis took over as mayor, and the village soon awarded the building’s management contract to LL Care and Fitness, a company owned by Lewis’ daughter, Angelique Lewis. That company still operates the Dorchester and a village fitness center.
She had worked for management at the Dorchester while it was controlled by the Shaws and apparently put together her own management company after her father became mayor.
Despite the village-subsidized renovation project, done prior to LL Care taking over, at least one wheelchair lift was apparently out of commission for weeks this year and a second has undergone repeated repairs.
Neither lift was replaced as part of the renovation project nor were the elevators, which apparently are old and in need of constant and expensive maintenance.
Rogers called a special village board meeting on Friday at the Dorchester to look into complaints of residents and attempt to determine why the building is losing money.
However, it appeared to me that the special meeting was a response to Chicago Tribune stories this past week about the problems at the Dorchester.
Lewis and Dorchester administrator Tom Lekavich, aided by a lawyer, seemed to effectively counter every question that Riley posed during the meeting.
They contended that in the last two years there has been no massive revenue shortfall. And they claimed that while the books may appear to be in the red, they actually reflect delayed payments from the state to the senior building. As a supportive living center, the state helps pay for the tenants’ rents.
Dona Lee Konecy, a resident of the complex for seven years who attended the meeting, told me she has had no problems at the Dorchester.
“I have no complaints,” she said. “The people who work here are beautiful to us. That’s the truth.”
Joseph Galloy, 85, a five-year resident, told me the “management is exceptional.”
I talked to several senior citizens and not one complained about the food, which I found exceptional.
Village officials indicated to me that thought the tenants in attendance may have been management plants, but that wasn’t my impression.
However, I can understand why seniors with complaints might be reluctant to speak out publicly for fear of retribution from the people who run the apartment building and help them with daily tasks.
Walter Dixon, 90, president of the building’s senior citizen council, told me that while the broken chairlift had been a problem, he felt overall that management had done a good job in trying to keep up with repairs.
Most of the seniors seemed far more concerned with the mayor’s published comments about closing the building than with the conditions that exist.
Rogers told me after the meeting that while he does not believe Dolton should be in the business of owning an apartment building for seniors, the village owed it to the residents there to keep it open.
Clem Balanoff, who was introduced at the meeting as the “transition village administrator,” said Dolton homeowners are paying an average of $200 a year in property tax to subsidize the Dorchester “and the people here can’t afford that.”
In theory, the building is supposed to pay for itself through rental income. When asked why occupancy is so low, Lewis and Lekavich, who say they split about $150,000 a year to run the place, said there is intense competition for tenants and the facility is transitional.
“These people are often moving out, on their way to somewhere else,” Lewis said.
At the end of Friday’s session, little seemed resolved. No one could explain why the renovation project didn’t include new elevators or chairlifts.
Changes to the plumbing system made during that project, Lekavich said, were so poorly done that plumbers have to be repeatedly called to make repairs at thousands of dollars a visit.
No one seemed satisfied with the outcome or reasons for the special meeting. But the publicity likely won’t do much to increase occupancy.