Fate of Public Safety Building in county’s hands

By Jim Hagerty

DOWNTOWN — The space in the Winnebago County Public Safety Building occupied by the Rockford Police Department is now empty, and county officials will decide whether re-occupy or tear it down.

City officers vacated the PSB of the city’s three-precinct geographic policing system. Overseen by Assistant Deputy Chief Carla Redd, District 1 comprises the west side. It officially opened last week at 1045 W. State St.

Assistant Deputy Chief Mike Dalke heads District 2 is at 1410 Broadway. The district serves central Rockford and the near-east side.

Rockford Police administrative offices are housed inside the District 3 precinct at 557 S. New Towne Drive. At the direction Assistant Deputy Chief John Pozzi, District 3 serves the far east side.

“It’s really exciting to have all three stations open,” Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said. “It continues our community policing strategy, which is all about building relationships and trust with residents.”

The county had been talking about tearing down the public safety building for several years as the geo-policing plan was being rolled out. The morgue, which is in the basement, and the police evidence identification unit, are slated to remain. A new entrance would be built for both. Demolishing the rest would eventually save the city and county at least $1.5 million in upkeep.

But, with the county facing $8 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, a tear down would may not fit into next year’s budget.

“When we’re able to rip down the public safety building, we do save operational dollars,” Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney told reporters Monday. “In dealing with that building there is some savings in our operation(s) budget once we do that.”

The Public Safety Building opened in 1976 and housed the Rockford Police Department, Winnebago County Jail and Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. Inmates and the sheriff’s department left in 2007 when the Justice Center opened one block west.

On Monday, the county decided to lay over the budget for another week so board members can add amendments for a September 28 vote.

The finance committee has recommended almost $6 million in cuts, more than $4 million of those to the sheriff’s department.

Officials say the county has been tapping into reserves from the past 11 years and has since spent about $8 million to fill in various gaps. The deficit comes on the heels of a massive financial scandal involving the FBI and eventual conviction of former Purchasing Director Sally Claassen, who pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $450,000 from county coffers. Former Board Chairman Scott Christiansen decided not to run for re-election amid the federal investigation. Haney defeated Democrat John Nelson for the seat in 2016. R.

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