County budget: Politics should stop at the street’s edge
By John Guevara
It makes sense: Everybody should be on the same page when it comes to fighting crime. And what we saw during this last county budget process was not unity; it was division.
Now, for the folks involved, who one can only hope are reading this, the common reaction is to bristle. “How dare they say we caused division? Don’t they know that there wouldn’t be any division if those people hadn’t done (insert action here)?”
Nestled in the cornucopia of public safety problems facing Winnebago County residents are three significant nuggets.
Read the first part of this article: Three things to know about the County budget
First, the county does not have enough revenue. Chairman Frank Haney and his team are not kidding, dissembling, or in any way disingenuous on this point. County revenues are not enough to meet the county’s current financial obligations.
The chairman has been abundantly clear. The issue is not if the county wants to fund public safety initiatives. The county wants to fund them. The problem is there is not enough money to pay for it.
The Finance Committee devoted seven meetings and reviewed every line item in the general fund and public safety budgets before advancing the administration’s recommended cut of $4.3 million in the sheriff’s budget.
Haney remains convinced the issue is not that public safety department heads felt isolated from the process. He is convinced they did not like the bottom line and would have been critical of any process with the same or a similar result.
Second, not everyone is a public safety expert, even when they want to be. The FBI publishes a report every year, “Crime In the United States.” It analyzes violent and property crimes throughout the country, breaking the numbers down by region, state, county, city, etc.
The FBI released the 2016 report the week before the county board voted on the budget. The report says violent crime in Winnebago County decreased slightly and property crime increased.
Both sides of the money debate proceeded to wave the report over their heads as proof positive their position was right.
The “more money” side said crime is up. This must mean more money needs to be invested in public safety, not less.
The “no money” side said the report is proof the sheriff’s way of doing things doesn’t work. More crime fighters doesn’t mean less crime.
The “debate” isn’t even a debate. Both positions are oversimplifications and an oversimplified position is an illogical one.
If crime went up, how could it be illogical to say the Sheriff Gary Caruana’s way does not work? State Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, and former Sheriff Dick Meyers explained how to the County Board in 2011.
The crime report is a report of crimes reported by law enforcement. It does not include the crimes committed that were never reported to law enforcement.
Crime was down in 2011. But the Meyers and Cabello argued that wasn’t really true. They argued that there weren’t enough officers to respond to every crime.
If that is true, it would not be hard to understand: more officers responding to crimes could explain an increase in “reported crimes”.
Another common refrain from the “no money” crime experts is that saturation patrols don’t work. And yet, multiple studies across America confirm the opposite. Which is true?
Instead of loading up on evidence to support confirmation bias, both sides should focus on common ground and engage in candid discussions about investing the tax money the county does have in the best way possible.
Lastly, by doing the first two things, the county can move from playing politics to pursuing principles policy.
Taxpayers do not need to be told who is or is not playing politics. Taxpayers deserve more than wars of words. It is time for our leaders to stop talking, quit naysaying, and commence leading.
The next time you hear or read criticism, take it with a grain salt. Look for the truth behind what they are saying. Look for uniters, not dividers. And demand better from the latter.
The best way to gain commitment from elected officials is written communication, especially, text or social media. Some folks need to be reminded what they promised from time to time. R.