UPDATE: Budget compromise reached; sheriff expected to hire 10 n - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

UPDATE: Budget compromise reached; sheriff expected to hire 10 new jailers


UPDATE: After weeks of back and forth, two Winnebago County leaders say they're finally finding some common ground over how to resolve staffing shortages at the county's jail.

"A lot of good discussions right now," said Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney.

"We're moving forward so I'm happy with that," said Sheriff Gary Caruana.

On Monday, Caruana and Haney released a joint recommendation to hire back 10 corrections officers to the Winnebago County Jail for a total of $350,000. 

 "I think that's going to alleviate a lot of our problems," said Caruana.

Those ten officers were laid off last fall, after the county board cut the sheriff's budget by $4.3 million. 

Since then, the jail says it's seen problems with staffing and had to increase inmate lockdowns.

However, the question remains... Will the sheriff still have to cut the nearly $4 million more expected last fall?

"There's no way $4.3 [million] is realistic in one year... And I think the chairman realizes that," said Sheriff Caruana.

Chairman Haney says the sheriff's office will still be responsible for getting to that $4.3 million, but he's willing to work out a plan, which may extend into next year's budget.

"It's not necessarily changing the plan, but extending the timeline to give a little bit more time for this review process for some consolidation discussions and just ways of getting there creatively and in an innovative way," said Haney.

Caruana responded to that saying, "We're going to have a responsible way to look at what is realistic. I mean I cut $2.5 [million]... What is a realistic way to get to that $4.3 [million] over the next couple of years?"

A path both say will be long and difficult, as the county works with the sheriff to tackle spending and public safety moving forward.

The recommendation will still need county board approval. 

After weeks of private meetings and heated exchanges in the media, Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney and Sheriff Gary Caruana have come to a compromise in the ongoing budget stalemate.

According to a news release, the deal is for $350,000 in reserve spending and will allow the sheriff to hire back 10 correctional officers to alleviate some of the current lockdown problems at the Winnebago County Jail.  The compromise will go in front of the Finance and Public Safety committees in mid-February and will then require board approval.

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed by inmates at the Winnebago County against Sheriff Gary Caruana over the last few weeks. The jail has been under consistent lockdowns since budget cuts were issued last fall. Inmates say the long hours in their cells violate their civil rights. 

"This allows lockdowns to be decreased and long-term joint planning between the county administration and sheriff's offices," Caruana said in the release.

Haney is calling the compromise a short-term strategy to help fix the current issues at the jail.

“We are taking on short-term tactical challenges while also laying the groundwork for long-term structural reforms that will help ensure fiscal responsibility and strategic alignment of resources," Haney said in the release.  

Back in the fall, the sheriff's office faced a $4.3 million cut instituted by the county board. Haney tells 13 WREX that the sheriff has made a number of cuts already to help cut into that $4.3 million, but will still be responsible to reach the full amount, minus the $350,000 agreed on today.  That would mean the sheriff will have to make a total of $3.95 million in cuts in fiscal year 2018.

13 News has interviews scheduled with both Haney and Caruana and we will update this story after the completion of those interviews.

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