Popular suburban animal attraction shuts down due to budget impasse

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - A popular south suburban animal attraction closed its doors Monday, another victim of the state budget crisis.

University Park says it's the first of what will likely be several drastic budget cuts and layoffs.
Like a modern-day Noah’s ark, workers in south suburban University Park Monday packed away about 150 animals for safekeeping.

It’s not rain, but a flood of debt that's forcing officials to move the creatures.

"Because of the financial burden we're in right now,” said University Park Mayor Vivian Covington.

Mayor Covington says they were forced to close the Riegel Farm Living Museum because the village is broke and millions of dollars in debt, and the state budget stalemate has shut off virtually all help from Springfield.

"When is it going to break? Is someone going to get along? And the State representatives, senators and congressmen said that all we can do is just pray. And hope that someone will break somewhere,” Mayor Covington said.

But it's not just animals feeling the pinch. Pink slips will be going out to six University Park employees this week, and many more down the line as the village seeks to drastically reduce its workforce until new property tax revenues arrive in May.

One alderman says University Park is the canary in the coal mine.

"If it happens here in University Park, it's gonna be the next community, then the next community, and as our mayor stated it would be a great help if the state of Illinois could join hands and get a budget going,” said Alderman Joe Roudez.

The village says it may be forced to cut positions from the fire and police departments as well, which would force residents to rely on other agencies from emergency services.

"The goal is to hold onto them as long as we can. In the event that we reach that financial roadblock then we will have to call in Will and Cook County,” said University Park Village Manager Johnna Townsend.

Until the budget crisis is resolved, these animals will be moved downstate and cared for by an animal shelter and rescue free of charge.

FOX 32: Why did you offer to do this?

"Why does the sun shine? It's the right thing to do,” said Pinky Janota of Settlers Pond Rescue.

University Park was in bad financial shape well before the state budget crisis. But like many Chicago suburbs on the brink, the turmoil in Springfield is the storm they may not survive.