Resolution: Jail tax money for bed linen

‘We are formulating a plan as we go,’ state’s attorney said

Items such as bed linens, cleaning supplies, gasoline and motor oil for Winnebago County’s satellite jail will be paid with jail tax money rather than other funds if the County Board approves an extra $1.1 million spending resolution on Thursday.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli and Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers appeared Oct. 20 at the county’s Public Safety Committee meeting to ask for extra money for their budgets since the jail tax collected $2.2 million more than expected during its first year—a year in which county leaders said the region’s local economy was sluggish.

The jail tax was originally sold to voters as a way to pay for jail overcrowding remedies and crime-prevention programs in response to a 2000 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit. During its first year, which ended June 30, the jail tax collected about $25.3 million. County leaders originally estimated in 2002 the sales tax increase would collect $23.1 million annually. The “public safety” sales tax, which was sponsored in 1995 by State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) has no sunset provision.

However, Syverson’s original bill, which went into effect in January 1996, was changed in 2003 to include the possibility for the tax money to be spent on transportation. State statute (55 ILCS 5/-1006.5) reads the tax may “provide revenue to be used exclusively for public safety or transportation purposes.” State law does not allow voters to repeal the tax— only the County Board has that authority.

County leaders have repeatedly pledged to use the tax for only “public safety” purposes. However, personnel and items such as bed linens that were once paid with other funds are now being paid with jail tax money.

Democrat Jim Hughes’ (D-11) proposal for an extra $1 million for crime prevention programs was shot down in July by Tim Simms (R-14), Republican County Board majority leader. Simms refused to let the issue be debated by the County Board at their July 8 meeting.

During an interview Oct. 24, Hughes quipped that Meyers and Logli must need the extra money and bed sheets to “cover up” other jail-related issues. He vowed to amend any resolution that asked for more jail tax money that didn’t include his proposed $1 million for alternative programs.

Logli said implementing remedies such as a court-date notification system, day reporting center and electronic monitoring will help reduce the county’s jail population to 400 inmates by September 2005. However, he stressed that achieving that number by that date “is still a challenge.” He said the county is trying to avoid having to house inmates in neighboring county jails due to transportation and rental costs.

“We are formulating a plan as we go,” Logli said at the meeting. Republican committee member Mary Ann Aiello (R-9) was surprised to learn that an exact plan to address the jail lawsuit issues hadn’t already been formulated. She thought the plan was forged during the 2002 campaign to approve the jail tax, which was led by Logli and Meyers.

Winnebago County’s sales tax increased 16 percent on July 1, 2003, from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent. Logli also said Timothy Chatmon’s federal jail overcrowding lawsuit was transferred from District Judge Philip G. Reinhard to Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney. A settlement conference concerning extending the stay of litigation in federal court is scheduled for Nov. 29.

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