By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
Don’t look around for the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Water Patrol if you’re boating on the Rock River.
Lieutenant Anthony Miceli announced at a safety meeting for this Sunday’s Rock River Anything That Floats Race that the Sheriff’s Department would not have its two patrol boats on the river for the event because of budget cuts by the Winnebago County Board.
According to Miceli, the Water Patrol was off the river except for the very busy Thursday night Dinner On The Docks program at the Prairie Street Brewhouse.
Sheriff Gary Caruana had requested an $843,000 budget to pay for new hires already made by the department based on guarantees from some county board members. But the board apportioned only $500,000, creating a $343,000 shortfall.
Caruana told The Times he was going to to back to the board for a budget amendment in three weeks.
“Obviously, cutting enforcement is risky,” Caruana said Thursday. “We need teamwork out of this board. If people don’t feel safe they don’t buy newspapers, they don’t buy real estate, and it’s hard to get good teacher and doctors to come to the community. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says a basic thing people want is to feel safe.”
Asked what other cuts beside the Water Patrol might occur, Caruana mentioned Jail House Services, Jail House Transport and Justice Center Security. The sheriff said he was asking all of his commanders to look at cuts.
“River patrols are just the beginning (of the cuts),” said Winnebago County Board Member John Guevara, R-19. “We need all hands on deck to fight crime.”
Guevara says the board needs to work together to find solutions to the department’s financial needs or risk seeing the effects in the county’s crime statistics.
“Arguing against the sheriff’s budget without explanation isn’t fiscally responsible,” he said. “It’s granting carte blanche to criminals.”
But fellow board member Steve Schutlz, R-3, disagrees.
“This is a political, public play to make the public feel the pain to put pressure on the board,” Schultz said Thursday night. “I don’t know what other county board members are going to do. I voted against the $500,000. I’ll vote against the $343.000.
“It’s simple: you can’t spend more than your budget. The sheriff should have known better than to accept the promises of the three county board members named by the (Rockford Register Star) because their votes were not enough to constitute a super majority required to pass his budget amendment.”
Caruana said that he was working with Rockford’s new Chief of Police Dan O’Shea to combine any services that will save both departments money because they are both feeling budget crunches.
“I don’t want a fat budget; I don’t want a thin budget,” concluded Caruana. “I want an efficient budget.”
Additional reporting by Shane Nicholson. Updated with comments from county board members John Guevara and Steve Schultz.