Jail alternatives funding amendment fails

Additional $1.1 million for deputies and bed linen for satellite jail is approved

The slimmest margin of Winnebago County Board members voted Oct. 28 against giving $1 million more to fund jail alternative programs this fiscal year. However, the board did approve $1.1 million more to pay for vehicles, gasoline, bed linen, cleaning supplies and motor oil for the satellite jail, and hiring additional deputies for the Sheriff’s Department.

Of the $1.1 million, $836,502 will fund costs associated with hiring 15 new correctional officers. The money was also used to purchase a $72,500 bus to transport prisoners from the satellite jail to the Public Safety Building.

Detractors of the motion for more money for alternative programs said extra jail tax money should be used to pay down the debt of constructing the proposed $127 million jail. They also said if more money were to be allocated for jail alternatives, the proposal should be evaluated by the Public Safety Committee before a vote by the full County Board.

Democratic board member Jim Hughes (D-11), who proposed the $1 million more for alternative programs from the floor of the meeting, said, in effect, Republican board representatives voted 13 to 12 against investing in people. However, Republican Rick Pollack (R-13) said he voted against Hughes’ motion because he favored paying off the debt for constructing the 1,212-bed jail. Fellow Republican Patti Thayer (R-9) said she voted against the measure because she wanted the Public Safety Committee to evaluate Hughes’ proposal before voting on such a motion.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli and Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers appeared before the Public Safety Committee Oct. 20 to ask for the $1.1 million increase in spending for fiscal year 2005. They asked for the extra money because the jail tax collected more than $1.4 million more than expected during its first year.

The jail tax went into effect in July 2003 and generated $25,552,280 by June 30 of this year. Logli and Meyers persuaded voters in 2002 to approve a 16 percent hike in the county’s sales tax that went from 6.25 to 7.25 percent.

The expected $23.1 million in sales tax was originally sold to voters by Logli and Meyers to pay for measures that were directly related to relieving jail overcrowding issues that were associated with a 2000 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit.

However, the jail tax money’s role in paying for county functions has increased each of its two fiscal years of existence. Personnel and supplies that were once funded through other county funds have been diverted to being funded through the jail tax.

Pollack and Republican majority leader W. Timothy Simms (R-14) said Hughes’ proposal breaks from the “plan” Logli and Meyers sold to voters. In contradiction, Logli said at the Oct. 20 Public Safety Committee meeting, “we are formulating a plan as we go.”

In a related matter, Dan Doyle, former Winnebago County state’s attorney, 17th Judicial Circuit judge and Illinois Appellate Court judge, has come out of retirement to help process the backlog of felony cases that contribute to Winnebago County’s jail overcrowding. Doyle’s temporary appointment to the bench will last one year, which began Nov. 1.

Kathryn Zenoff, chief judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit, petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for the appointment, which was approved Oct. 20.

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