Board, chief judge continue budget standoff

Last Thursday, the Winnebago County Board continued its standoff with the 17th Circuit Court’s Chief Judge Joeseph McGraw. A majority of the board rejected McGraw’s grand compromise budget amendment. The compromise restored $173,126 to the court’s 2017 budget while also transferring funds from the current budget to meet additional needs.

The vote prompted a letter issued by the Chief Judge the next day, ordering County Treasurer Susan Goral, and County Board Chairman Frank Haney to pay $50,000 for legal research materials.

This impasse is stretching into its eighth month with no clear end in sight. However, as Chairman Haney and the Board prepare the 2018 budget, the intransigence can be avoided by applying the second point of the Contract with the Community, Transparent Budgeting.

The source of the standoff is Supreme Court Rule 943, which, among many things, prohibits juveniles from being shackled while being transported to and from court. The exceptions to the rule regarding the use of restraints are:

  1. Instruments of restraint are necessary to prevent physical harm to the minor or another person; or
  2. The minor has a history of disruptive behavior that has placed others in potentially harmful situations or presents a substantial risk of inflicting physical harm on himself or herself or others as evidenced by recent behavior; or
  3. There is a well-founded belief that the minor presents a substantial risk of flight from the courtroom.

The Rule was proposed earlier in 2016 with hearings held in July. The 17th Circuit submitted a budget amendment before County Board voted to approve the fiscal year 2017 budget on September 24th 2016. Rule 943 was adopted Oct. 6 and went into effect Nov. 1.

The Court’s position is that the additional full-time personnel are mandated by the Supreme Court rule. County Board member Joe Hoffman disagrees. “I’m not convinced why full-time positions are necessary, when they’ve been doing it part time for so long.”

Board member Eli Nicolosi says, “The rule itself doesn’t specify… so we’ll have to wait and see.”

It is unclear how the Illinois Supreme Court’s rule requires the addition of full-time employees. County Sheriff’s deputies had been conducting transport on an as needed basis before the rule went into effect. Ogle County utilizes video equipment to conduct many juvenile hearings.

Hiring additional part-time employees to supplement the use of existing full-time officers to conduct transports was also deemed an inadequate solution by the Court.

Transparent Budgeting

How can adopting transparent budgeting prevent, or at least mitigate, departmental standoffs and discord?

First, require that all mandated spending be specified in each department’s budget citing the state or local, law, ordinance, resolution, or rule requiring it. All prospective mandates should also be included, or added as they arise. If you think you’re going to have to spend the money, tell “the people” before it happens.

Minutes of budgetary discussions, and copies of the prospective budgets should be provided to the members of a public body’s Finance Committee for review and a meeting scheduled for follow-up discussion.

Sure disagreements could still occur. The point is that the discussions would be happening before the money was budgeted and people are hired, instead of afterwards.

Including mandated spending with documentation informs the public how much tax spending is required by state and local governments. It also tells people what government services they are required to buy with their taxes.

The hope is that people will be better informed, and consequently, keep a tighter rein on their public officials.

Tax funded bodies should behave like tax paying ones. Don’t spend it if you don’t have it. R.

This is part of our Contract with the Community series. Read the full series here.
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