WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) — The Winnebago County Sheriff’s lawsuit against the county appears to have come to an end.
The board agreed to a settlement agreement Thursday night that was drafted by Sheriff Gary Caruana’s attorney Terry Ekl.
The agreement includes nine bullet points, most notably, the approval of a budget amendment for the 2019 fiscal year in the amount of $1.7 million. The new money will help the sheriff cover the salaries of 24 deputies who have remained on the payroll despite being unfunded in the 2019 budget.
The sheriff’s initial lawsuit alleged the budget passed for his department was illegal.
The resolution was passed 16-2 by the board, with finance chairman Jaime Salgado and board member Steve Schultz as the only opposition.
Board Chairman Frank Haney, who was not at tonight’s meeting, tells 13 WREX that he is concerned about where the money will come from to pay for the amendment.
“I’m concerned that we have not identified a source of funds to support this level of spending,” Haney said. “The finance committee still needs to do that in their budget planning.”
As part of the agreement, Caruana must pay for all attorney fees for Ekl, who served as special prosecutor on behalf of the sheriff in this lawsuit. The first payment of Ekl’s attorney fees were paid by the county.
Another key bullet point in the agreement says the sheriff cannot use the extra $1.7 million for the calculation of the proposed base amount of the department’s 2020 budget.
“I can’t guarantee that [Sheriff Caruana] might come back and do the same thing again, it’s his prerogative,” says Finance Committee Chairman Jaime Salgado. “He has a job to do, I respect that. He’s an elected official. Constitutionally he has some rights. All we can do, our power as a county board is set a budget that’s fair and equitable for the whole county.”
“I can’t say with any certainty that we will not be in this situation come next year,” adds 15th District board member Burt Gerl. “I don’t know if Mr. Ekl will be hired by Mr. Caruana, he very well could be coming into the 2020 budget.”
The first draft of the 2020 fiscal year budget was discussed by the finance committee earlier this month, but it did not include any projections from the sheriff due to the pending litigation. Now that the lawsuit has been settled, we expect to hear the terms of the sheriff’s proposed budget as early as next week.
The sheriff did not attend the county board meeting, but did recently tell 13 WREX that he is happy with the agreement that was reached.