Chief judge, sheriff speak out against budget cuts

By Jim Hagerty

COUNTY COURTHOUSE–Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana and Chief Judge Joe McGraw will do everything they can before massive cuts land dozens of public safety workers out of jobs.

Each addressed Monday his individual concerns regarding $4.3 million in cuts to the sheriff’s department. The cuts part of the balanced budget approved last week by the county board, and includes a total of $6.8 million in cutbacks.

“Public safety is like a three-legged stool,” McGraw said.”It is comprised of law enforcement, court operations and rehabilitative services.”

McGraw has been vocal about the county budget. Earlier this year, the judge sued the board for additional funding for the courthouse. His latest concern is that Caruana will be dangerously understaffed, impeding his ability to keep the courthouse and justice center safe.

“The court has raised several issues,” McGraw said, “which are not just a matter of want, but a matter of need. They represent failures to fund necessary court services that must, by law, be provided.”

Caruana said he will not rush to take deputies off the job as directed by the board, echoing McGraw that sweeping layoffs could come with grave consequences to citizens of Winnebago County.

“I am going to continue to investigate all my options for the public and for public safety,” Caruana said.

The sheriff called the latest budget process flawed and confusing, one that included mounting cuts to his department.

“About a month ago, I learned that our budget was going to be cut by $3 million by [Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney],” he said. “I was out of the loop. I asked myself, ‘Why was I not part of that process?’”

Caruana said he was later led to believe his department would see a funding increase of $2 million. In August, the county was poised to hire more deputies, a plan that’s now expected to be halted.

The sheriff said cuts were based on 2011 numbers—a flawed baseline drawn from when the county was coming out of the Great Recession. He says staff should have gone back two years before that to get a better picture of the current economic outlay.

“In 2009, my predecessor’s budget was almost the same as my budget at the end of 2017,” Caruana said. “By statute, I have responsibility for law enforcement.”

That statute, he said, is a state law that requires him to put enough deputies and detectives on the streets, and corrections officers in applicable county buildings.

There are currently 109 patrol deputies employed by the county. As many as 30 could be laid off. Bailiffs would be subject to cuts, too.

Haney told media that he is willing to search for options to avoid as many cuts as possible. He added that the board deserves praise for coming to the table with a budget that doesn’t raise taxes and that has public safety in mind.

“They looked at a very difficult no-win situation,” the chairman said. “We are going to continue to make public safety a priority. And as has been the case this entire year, we are going to look for innovative ways in which to do business.”

Other cuts include those to the circuit court in the amount of $150,000; probation services by $150,000; public defender’s office by $150,000; and the state’s attorney’s office by $200,000. R.

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