Will County officials look for ways to cut sheriff’s budget
BY CINDY CAIN firstname.lastname@example.org October 22, 2013 4:04PM
The Will County jail at 95 S. Chicago St. in Joliet is part of the sheriff's department, which was over budget last year and will be again this year. | Cindy Cain ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 24, 2013 6:36AM
JOLIET — The Will County Sheriff’s Office would have to cut 50 employees to come in under budget in 2014, which according to one sheriff’s department official would seriously reduce response times for officers.
Because sheriff’s deputies earn the bigger salaries, “You’re talking about laying off police officers,” Deputy Chief Nate Romeo, who is in charge of support services, said at Tuesday’s Will County Board Finance Committee meeting.
But something has to be done because the sheriff’s department was $2.8 million over budget last year and is going to be more than $3 million over budget this year, committee members agreed.
“We need to find out a way to keep the sheriff in line with his budget,” said Steve Wilhelmi, D-Joliet, who chairs the finance committee.
Instead of laying off deputies, committee members suggested the sheriff, who was not at the meeting, consider eliminating his maintenance department, which includes an electrician, plumbers, a locksmith and others who maintain the county jail and sheriff’s offices, as well as a staff of mechanics who maintain squad cars.
Bob Howard, D-Beecher, said squad cars could be sent to Jiffy Lube for oil changes. It’s time to head toward a more efficient government, he said. Without some cuts, the county is going to have to start dipping into cash reserves or its RTA sales tax money, which is designated solely for roadwork, Howard said.
Howard said the federal government shutdown taught him “there is a lot of government that might not be needed at this point in time.”
Romeo said Sheriff Paul Kaupas has done all he can in recent years to cut costs, including the elimination of 17 positions.
“There’s no more we can do,” he said.
Romeo noted that the sheriff’s mechanics also maintain Will County Health Department and Animal Control vehicles.
“I don’t have excess staff,” he said. “ ... I have bare minimum.”
But committee members talked about the county combining the sheriff’s maintenance staffs with other staffs in 2014. In future years, more consolidation could come in information technology, human resources and finance functions that are duplicated across the county, they said.
Tuesday’s debate was all part of the county board’s final 2014 budget wrangling, which included a fight between Democrats and Republicans last week over the property tax levy. The Democrats won and the levy will increase by $900,000 to pay for some capital projects. The budget will come up for a vote on Nov. 21.
Salaries are always a big-ticket item in the budget and the sheriff’s department has come in over budget in recent years. But the county board has underfunded the sheriff to begin with by not including money for raises and overtime in this year’s budget, Romeo said.
“We started out in the hole and there was no way to get out of the hole,” he said.
The sheriff’s department is the county’s biggest department personnel-wise with 233 deputies, 234 correctional officers and 170 or so support staffers. It’s a 24/7 operation, so it’s difficult to make cuts or avoid overtime, the sheriff has said during past budget debates.
The county entered binding arbitration with the deputies union last year and it had to give workers 2 percent to 2.5 percent salary increases on top of step increases in a similar range that were given for additional years of employment. But that money was never put in the sheriff’s 2013 budget, Romeo said.
Chuck Maher, R-Naperville, said the county board was held “hostage” by the arbitration process and didn’t willingly agree to those raises.
“Just keep in mind that the sheriff, too, was a hostage,” Romeo said.
Kaupas is expected to address the committee at its next meeting, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 29 at the Will County Office Building, 302 N. Chicago St.
Kaupas did not want to comment on the committee’s budget-cutting suggestions when he was contacted by telephone Tuesday afternoon.
“I’ll say it next Tuesday,” he said.