Will County panel backs off on sheriff’s cutbacks
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com October 29, 2013 8:22PM
Will County Board member Steve Wilhelmi, D-Joliet, who chairs the finance committee, discusses proposed 2014 budget cuts on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, at the Will County Office Building in Joliet. | Cindy Cain~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2013 11:19AM
One week after the Will County Board’s finance committee talked about taking an ax to Sheriff Paul Kaupas’ 2014 budget, the committee chairman on Tuesday offered the sheriff an “olive branch.”
The sheriff’s budget is the county’s biggest and is routinely in the red by the end of the year. Last year, its deficit was $2.8 million, this year’s is expected at about $3 million and next year’s could go even higher.
But Kaupas contends that the county board underfunds his department every year. For instance, the sheriff’s department routinely uses about $1.8 million a year in overtime because it is a 24/7 operation that includes the county jail. But the county board only allotted the sheriff $600,000 for overtime in the 2014 budget.
Finance committee chairman Steve Wilhelmi (D-Joliet) said last week’s discussion was an attempt to get the sheriff to try to cut into the deficits, which have to be paid out of the county’s cash reserves. But if Kaupas says he can’t, there isn’t much the county board can do legally to force him and that’s why an olive branch was offered, Wilhelmi said.
“What I decided is we weren’t going to have that whole rehashing again (on Tuesday),” he said. “So we’re going to cover the (sheriff’s budget) somehow.”
Wilhelmi said he still would like Kaupas, who is retiring from office in December 2014, to look for ways to cut costs.
“I’m not saying it’s easy,” he said. “But we only have so much money to dole out.”
Kaupas, who was not at last week’s meeting, did attend Tuesday’s session and brought top staffers with him to answer questions. But he wasn’t asked to discuss budget cuts. Instead, he was only questioned about possible ways to save on maintenance costs, including outsourcing some work.
Kaupas said his department is so specialized that may be tough. For instance, inmates often damage plumbing at the jail, and if outside plumbers had to be called each time it would be more costly, he said.
Committee member Bob Howard (D-Beecher) suggested last week that squad cars could be sent to outside oil-change shops, but Kaupas said that wouldn’t make sense. When the cars get in-house service, mechanics check sirens and emergency lights and video is downloaded from cameras, which couldn’t happen if the cars were sent somewhere else.
“I’m for it, don’t get me wrong,” he said of consolidation. “But some of it I don’t think is going to work.”
In the end, the finance committee agreed that maintenance consolidation won’t happen before the budget is voted on in three weeks, and it’s a discussion that should happen in 2014.
The sheriff’s approximately $60 million budget is the “lion’s share” of the county’s roughly $120 million corporate fund, its main operating fund, Wilhelmi said. Salaries total about $39 million out of the sheriff’s budget.
While the sheriff’s department was spared a major cut, the finance committee did recommend cutting about $1.6 million from the Sunny Hill Nursing Home and utilities budgets and increasing expected revenue by $300,000 to make up for a $1.9 million property tax increase that was initially proposed but dropped at last month’s county board meeting.
Committee members agreed that because a wing of Sunny Hill is being remodeled and salary expenses will be lower, the cut won’t hurt operation of the county-owned facility. And utility cuts shouldn’t be painful unless there is a bad winter, they said.
The finance committee is expected to vote on the new budget at its meeting Monday, and the full board likely will vote Nov. 21.