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Cooperation keeps state agency local

The Department of Human Services recently moved from downtown Oregon to a new, more spacious location at 1001 Pines Rd. Photo by Vinde Wells
The Department of Human Services recently moved from downtown Oregon to a new, more spacious location at 1001 Pines Rd. Photo by Vinde Wells

Cooperation among government officials recently kept a state agency from leaving Oregon.

Mayor Ken Williams said he received an anonymous call a few months ago informing him that the Illinois Department of Human Services was planning to close its office in downtown Oregon and move it to Rock Falls.

“That would have meant that the office that serves Lee and Ogle Counties wouldn’t have been in either one,” he said. 

After doing some checking, Williams found out that the agency manager in Oregon had retired, and the manager in Rock Falls had taken over.

“My feeling was that they were planning to consolidate,” he said.

According to the DHS website, the agency provides “streamlined access to integrated services” to residents “who are striving to move from welfare to work and economic independence, and others who face multiple challenges to self-sufficiency.”

Concerned about local residents’ loss of convenient access to those services, as well as the loss of jobs, Williams contacted Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker and State Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon).

Demmer set up a conference call between the three of them and state DHS officials.

“Together Ken, Kim, and I helped make the case that DHS should remain in Oregon,” Demmer said. “It’s important not just for the 17 employees who will keep their jobs in Oregon, but also for the hundreds of people who go to the office for services and help. Thankfully our arguments worked.” 

During the conversation, Williams said they learned that DHS needed more space than the downtown location at 106 N. Second St. provided.

They had advertised their need only on the state website, and no one responded.

Williams and Gouker invited the officials to come to Oregon to take a look at what the community has to offer.

They also went into action to personally find suitable locations.

They found just the right spot at 1001 W. Pines Rd. in the former Dawson Subscriptions building.

Al Millhouse, of Mt. Morris, had purchased the 45,000 square-foot building last September and was willing to rent DHS as much space as they wanted and remodel it to suit their needs.

“Al has experience renting space to state agencies, and he knew want they wanted,” Williams said. “I toured it and I’ve got to say it’s an absolutely beautiful facility. They [DHS officials] like it so well that they are thinking of bringing more offices here.”

Millhouse said DHS is located in 7,300 square feet in the front of the building. He is developing plans for how the remainder will be used.

Williams and Demmer expressed satisfaction at how the situation turned out.

“The upshot is that we were looking at losing 17 jobs,” Williams said. “Now they’re actually looking to hire some more people. I’m very happy they’re staying in town, and I’m sure the people they serve are, too.”

“It was good to have city, county, and state government working together,” Demmer said.