County sets priority for law enforcement despite deficits

Two representatives of SAFE – Secure Active Family Environment – Joe Castrogiovanni and Mike Tulley, in a Public Safety Op-ed last Sunday accused the Winnebago County board and administration of diverting $1.1M dollars of the Public Safety Sales Tax – PSST – using the money for purposes other than public safety based on evidence “found” by Sheriff Caruana’s in the first year of his term.

The sheriff has also alleged that the county has cut the sheriff’s budget for the past 15 years, yet the sheriff’s budget has increased from $16.81M in 2000 to $36.28M estimated for this year, an increase of 121%.

This Op-ed impugned the integrity of county officials by accusing them of “either theft or mismanagement of said funds in a single year and that only God, and hopefully the FBI, knows how much money has been lost over the past decade or more.”

The one-cent PSST is accurately accounted for each year through an independent audit. This year, the PSST revenue is projected to be slightly above $28M with personnel expenditure estimated at $15.27M, supplies and services at $4.61M and debt service to repay the bonds at $8.5M.

The board has yet to receive a detailed list of this $1.1M dollars in PSST funds allegedly diverted from the sheriff’s budget, however, references from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office – WCSO Budget Facts, includes – overbilling for landscaping, purchase of gas cards and purchase of chocolate Christmas presents.

A few of the Sheriff’s solutions to funding his expansion of law enforcement was to investigate robust cuts in funding social service and non-profit agencies; combining the RIC center programs with programs in the jail and to sell county real estate holdings.

Also, included in the list was $282,997 from the alternative programs budget of 2,282,997, which the sheriff concluded was more than the $2M promised in the 2002 PSST referendum brochure.

Actually, the brochure stated, “Each year ‘over’ two million dollars will be spent on program alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitative programs.”

Also, the WCSO Budget Facts referenced the combined disbursements in FY 2015 appear to be $984,827.42 for Rosecranes alone and does not include expenditures to individual consultants, Remedies, Rock Valley College, Rock Valley Industries, Rockford Area Lutheran, Rockford Reach Out Ministries and Youth Services Network.

Also, cited was inmate phone and commissary fees, federal prisoner’s payments, traffic ticket fines and other fees collected by the county clerk, all of which currently go to the General Fund. The sheriff believes these monies should go to his department since WCSO is responsible for the revenue.

Another perceived diversion of PSST funds seems to be that the county is paying only $8.5M for the Justice Center’s debt service, which the sheriff points out is approximately $2.0M less than the “percentage” of 35% of PSST estimated when the referendum was approved 14 years ago.

The reason the debt service is less than predicted was that the county paid down the construction costs to $109M using the $38M saved while the Justice Center was being constructed, reducing the interest payments by $60.2M.

Looks like a large portion of the PSST was also diverted into the taxpayer’s pockets!

Had either SAFE representative attended a Public Safety or Finance Committee meeting or the biweekly county board meetings, they would have witnessed the county board increasing the sheriff’s current allocated budget by an additional $987,000 dollars from the 1% PSST balance and another extension of $508,000 from an additional sheriff’s budget amendment of $833,000 at our last board meeting, making the sheriff’s budget the highest ever!

The $978,000 included funds for 10 corrections officers – salaries, insurance, pensions, clothing and basic training amounting to $648,000; $245,000 for equipment and $330,000 for Prisoner Transport Vehicle, transport van and 4 unmarked cars.

The county will wind up 2016 with an annual deficit of $3.7M and the 2017 deficit is projected to be approximately $7.4M. How does the county continue to increase the sheriff’s budget with deficits this large?

Between the city, the county and the other municipalities within Winnebago County, it’s estimated that approximately $100M dollars is spent on law enforcement. There has to be consolidation of law enforcement within the county before any budgets can be efficiently increased with the millions in deficits facing the City of Rockford and Winnebago County in the next few years.