Winnebago County Budget Cuts Force Layoffs of 911 Dispatchers

WTVO/WQRF - Budget cuts will force the Winnebago County Sheriff to layoff even more people from his department.  Winnebago County 911 dispatchers found out on Wednesday night that they're the next to go, in an effort to balance the county's budget, which is millions of dollars in the red.  The Sheriff says he has no choice but to make these cuts, but the Chief Judge says it's unfair and jeopardizes public safety.

This comes after Sheriff Gary Caruana announced Tuesday that he laid off dozens of officers from his department.

"This is not a pleasant situation," said Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana.  The Sheriff commenting on making, yet, another tough decision on cuts to his department.

"I have responsibilities," said Sheriff Caruana.  "I have to go somewhere with those calls."

Dispatchers were given their 10-day layoff notice Wednesday.  Sheriff Caruana says the Rockford Fire Department is considering bringing some of them on for their dispatch center.

"This is just a reality," said Sheriff Caruana.  "If you cut me this deep, it could be outsourcing and it could be a costly outsourcing."

Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney supports the Sheriff's moves to reduce his budget.  

"It's been a longtime coming," said Haney. "Unfortunately, and you know, number one, we need to live within our means as a county, the same way folks in our community do in their household."

The county faces a $7 million budget deficit, $4 million of which could be recouped from the Sheriff's department. Haney says the budget has backed them into a corner.

"We're at a point where we've run out of good, or even bad, options," said Haney.  "So, that has to be part of the discussion."

17th Judicial Circuit Court Chief Judge Joe McGraw addressed the layoffs.  Eyewitness News obtained a letter he wrote to Haney and the rest of the Winnebago County board.  In it, McGraw says the Sheriff's cuts and any others that follow will result in a loss of productivity, which would create new costs, such as providing care for inmates at the county jail for a longer period.  The Chief Judge also says, other non-public safety departments should shoulder some of the cuts.  Haney says they already have.

"We're having cuts in almost all our departments, including our non-public safety departments," said Haney.  "What has happened is that our non-public safety departments have been cut first, deepest and hardest, over the past several years."

A vote isn't expected until next Thursday, September, 28th.


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