BEHIND THE BADGE: Winnebago Sheriff Makes A Last Effort To Avoid Major Budget Cuts

The Sheriff says major budget cuts would be catastrophic.

WINNEBAGO COUNTY - Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana makes his last effort to the County Board after they proposed major budget cuts to the Sheriff's Office, while the county faces a huge budget deficit. His department potentially will have to cut more than $4 million.

"It's a scenario that could get violent, and I'm very, very, very concerned," said Caruana.  

Caruana is now proposing to lay off all 64 court security officers, outsourcing 911 dispatchers, eliminating programs including the jail inmate work crew that we told you about a few weeks ago, and, possibly, correctional officers.

"I have to look at the statutes at where I can cap [the jail inmate population], and say felony non-violent, don't bring them [in the jail], notice appear them, felony violent I will [take them]."

Caruana says the budget talks with the county chairman were done in secret, and some of the impact could have been prevented.

"I wasn't involved. I'm not mad at anyone, but I'm a little upset I wasn't involved."

But Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney disagrees.

"We have had ongoing discussions even prior to me being the chairman about his budget," said Haney.  

In June, the county approved eight new hires for the patrol division, something Caruana says he would have halted if the board expressed concern over his budget several months ago.

"I put in requests to hire to human resources, then it went to the administration and accounting and they signed off on it. Ok, they must know something I don't," said Caruana.

"That is his budget and he will make decisions with the dollars he has and how he will run his department," said Haney.

Also in May, federal immigration authorities proposed housing ICE detainees in the Winnebago County Jail. That could have meant eight to nine million dollars in additional revenue, but after much community opposition, the sheriff declined that offer since federal authorities could not promise the facility would strictly be used for housing serious felons.

"I have to be sensitive to the public and what they want because I serve them and community relations, and overwhelmingly they didn't want it. Now could I have shoved it down their throat? Yes, but that's not the right thing to do," said Caruana.

County Board Chairman Frank Haney says cutting millions out of the Sheriff's department is unavoidable.

"We are at a point with our general fund where we are at about three months cash, three months cash balance. We have a policy of not going much below that except at a emergency level."

All of this coming after a violent weekend in Rockford, where a Winnebago County Sheriff's Deputy was wounded. Caruana says these cuts won't just affect his employees losing their jobs, but the community as a whole.

"I want to reiterate I had to work hard for my people and that's what I did, so I could look at the public and my people and say I did everything I could do, that's what leaders do," said Caruana.

Sheriff Caruana and Chairman Haney agree raising taxes is not an option.


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