In trimming more than $1 billion out of a state budget that he said was about $2 billion out of balance, Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week deleted almost $2.8 million from a fund that pays for historic site workers. The $2.8 million cut represents half of the money in the fund.

Budget cuts to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency have prompted worries that state historic sites could close their doors and lay off staff, but an agency spokesman says those concerns are premature.


In trimming more than $1 billion out of a state budget that he said was about $2 billion out of balance, Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week deleted almost $2.8 million from a fund that pays for historic site workers. The $2.8 million cut represents half of the money in the fund.


"We know that this will mean a significant impact on all of our state historic sites," said IHPA spokesman David Blanchette. "We do not know precisely what that impact will be as it pertains to each individual site. But we’ve been carefully examining the situation, and we should have some specifics in the near future."


According to one widespread rumor, historic sites are closing Aug. 1. The rumor is false, Blanchette said.


While the budget cut is "obviously devastating," he added, it is too soon to say "that this one or that one will close, or this one or that one will have reductions in operational hours. We just can’t be that specific yet."


Site closures and reduced hours "are two alternatives that are being examined," he said.


Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, worries that budget cuts at historic sites would affect tourism. Tourists would be disappointed if they traveled for miles only to find that the historic site they want to visit is closed, he said.


"I think (the possibility is) real because that happened already in the past," he said.


Steve Holden, site superintendent at the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site in Galesburg, fears that the famous writer’s birthplace could sustain some kind of hit because of the budget cuts.


"I think we are, I hate to say it, probably one of the more likely ones because we’re one of the smaller state historic sites," said Holden, who has worked at the site since 1990.


Mike Wendel, administrator of the Bishop Hill Heritage Association, is passing out petitions urging the restoration of funding for the Bishop Hill State Historic Site.


He also sent out a news release this week that claimed the Illinois House of Representatives would vote Thursday on the "possible closing" of four historic sites, including the one at Bishop Hill and Sandburg’s birthplace.


The House, however, went home Wednesday and canceled its session Thursday. It considered restoring some budget cuts Wednesday, but would not have been able to address the historic site funding because that item was included in a Senate bill. Procedurally, restoring that money will require the Senate to take action first.


Wendel later softened his stance, saying Wednesday, "I’ve got to stop the gloom and dooming."


"I’m hoping things will resolve themselves," he added. "I hope (the sites) can continue to operate as they have in the past."


 


Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.