Winnebago County board approves 2019 budget after weeks of debate about sheriff’s budget

WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) – The Winnebago County Board approves a 2019 budget after weeks of debate on how to close a $4 million budget deficit.

At the center of the debate on how to balance the budget, was the sheriff’s budget. There was disagreement over how much to give him. Board members approved Dan Fellars plan that would increase the budget for the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office by $1 million.

Chairman Frank Haney said he wanted to give Sheriff Gary Caruana an extra $2.5 million in his budget for next year. Several board members said they didn’t feel comfortable with that increase because Caruana overspent his budget in 2018.

“We decrease the pressure on the reserve funds, but also didn’t put too much pressure on the sheriff’s department that would lead to immediate layoffs on October 1,” Fellars says.

Under the approved budget, the Caruana will have to meet the following criteria:

  • Monthly report-outs to Public Safety Committee.
  • Courthouse security transition (full-time to part-time).
  • Prisoner transport review and report out.
  • Work release review and report out.
  • 911 long-term solution finalized.
  • 911 staffing remains at 25.
  • Jail staffing remains at 159.
  • Execution on applicable Lean Process Review recommendations.

Caruana says he agrees to those conditions and now its time to start looking for ways he can make cuts throughout his department. He says he is not sure when he would start making those cuts, but says he will not lay off deputies.

“I’m going to put pen to paper and my plan right now is that I’m not cutting deputies,” Caruana says.

But, County Board Finance Chairman Ted Biondo says cutting deputies needs to happen. That’s because he says under state statue the board has the authority to set the number of patrols Caruana can put on the street. Biondo says it is the only way to make sure Caruana makes the cuts he needs to.

“Even if we don’t sign them, some of them we didn’t sign last year, he went ahead and spent them because there’s no limit,” Biondo says.

Now that the budget is set for next year, Chairman Haney says its time for the board to start looking ahead to 2019.

A few of the items he says he wants to focus on include finding a long term solution for 911 consolidation and looking at ways to improve the county-run River Bluff Nursing Home.

“Going from where we were at which was a huge hole to where we want to be which is a sustainable budget process, It was going to take multiple years,” Haney says. “We took steps last year, we’re taking steps this year, but we’ve got a ton of work and people should be expecting us to execute on some of the reforms that were laid out tonight.”

In order to balance the budget and fill the deficit, the county will dip into reserve funds.

Breane Lyga

Breane Lyga

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