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Ordinance shifts 911 financial/contractual issues to county administration

The debate framed by the Rockford Register Star in last Sunday’s op-ed was that the Winnebago County 911 service has been caught up in political games. The editorial further opined that people don’t care about political fiefdoms, budget deficits or the color of squad cars dispatched when one’s life is literally on the line.

The “wrangling” over the 911 service, as far as the county board is concerned, has been to keep the 911 Center functioning after the sheriff unilaterally announced he had cut the 911 budget by one-half and given the staff their notice, which he later rescinded. The damage, however, had already been done.

The sheriff’s department has no statutory requirements to run a 911 Center but it is most assuredly a public safety issue. Apparently, the 911 Center was not high enough on the sheriff’s priority list.

The “wrangling” wasn’t about political fiefdoms or consolidation of the 911 service, but did involve discussions of budget deficits, which have decimated the county’s reserves by over $20 million dollars in the past 14 years by overspending existing revenues. Taxpayers do care about budget deficits leading to higher taxes.

The op-ed protested that no compelling rationale had been given for the county ordinance transferring supervision of Winnebago County’s 911 Center from the sheriff to the county administrator and that the ordinance had little or no debate.

The county board did have compelling rationale for its 911 ordinance, however, the editorial board made no attempt to obtain that input from any member of the county board or county administration.

Under the county board ordinance, the sheriff retains control of 911 operations –financial and contractual decisions shift to county administration.

The op-ed also agreed with the Mayors of Rockford and Loves Park that under the current 911 structure, when properly funded and staffed, the sheriff is the most appropriate elected official to operate the county 911 center and determine its appropriate level of staffing.

Unfortunately, the problem with that scenario is the sheriff was the one who cut the 911 funding in half and was in the process of terminating the staff with layoff notices!

The county board will seek to stabilize the 911 Center with the approval of the sheriff’s Budget Amendment funding that is required to train and hire more supervisors and dispatchers to complete the 2018 fiscal year and into the 2019 budget year.

The interim funding was recommended this week by the Finance Committee, to cover the immediate need to replace the 911 staff leaving due to the sheriff’s actions.

Passage of the county ordinance would then transfer financial oversite to the county administrator, who would ensure that audit standards required by GASB would be meticulously followed; monies would be appropriated to the proper funds and centralized where required; and that any 911 contracts between the mayors in the county municipalities and the county chairman would be negotiated with the guidance from the states attorney’s office and with the county administrator’s financial expertise.

To demonstrate one instance that financial oversite is necessary, the Love’s Park 911 service contract has been mismanaged by the sheriff’s department’s lack of contractual expertise. Article (VII) in the contract, defines, “compensation rendered to the county would be adjusted whenever necessary, including retroactively, to reflect any actual increase or decrease in the personnel costs incurred by the county … including adjustments made to salaries and benefits by the county for its employees.”

That clause has not been enumerated for years under the sheriff department’s oversite and has been estimated to have cost the county $180,000 dollars. Our attorney and the county administrator should negotiate and oversee these financial items in the future for the sheriff’s department – the primary intent of the county board’s ordinance.

A letter from the sheriff, dated August 8, 2018, less than a week before the editorial board’s op-ed and prior to the Mission Critical Partners study, clearly shows that the sheriff unilaterally intended to create a governance board for the 911 Center, without any mention of involving the county administration’s input except for funding the sheriff’s governance structure.

Subsequently, the sheriff asks this coalition to contribute an increased financial commitment to 911 services and that these stakeholders support his effort to obtain adequate funding from the Winnebago County Board to provide these services!

Organizing the complicated structure of a county-wide municipal 911 consortium as a result of the Mission Critical Partners study with its financial implications, legal contracts and its multiple layers of bureaucracy and fee structures requires expertise that is within the scope of county administration and the need for the county board’s 911 ordinance.

 

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