The joint public safety and finance committee voted to advance a controversial proposal that would strip 911 center responsibilities from the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office and give them to the Winnebago County administrator.
The vote followed another heated debate by committee members and Winnebago County Chief Deputy Mark Karner who questioned the validity of comments made about layoffs from public safety committee chair Dave Fiduccia. In fact, following the meeting, Karner and Fiduccia engaged in a heated verbal altercation in county board chambers, with each questioning comments made during the committee meeting.
On Tuesday, 13 WREX reported on county finance chairman Ted Biondo's plans to change the center's reporting structure. However, there were questions over whether that move is legal. 13 News obtained a copy of a 2006 contract between the county and City of Loves Park. It says termination of that agreement would require a 2-year notification to either party. However, the county's attorney Dave Kurlinkus says it is legal because it's a change in reporting, not a change in services.
But an Aug. 9 letter written by Mayor Tom McNamara of Rockford and Mayor Greg Jury of Loves Park was addressed to Chairman Frank Haney, Sheriff Gary and county board members.
The two say they are "deeply concerned" about recent developments to 911 center operations. They wrote, "Our concerns are around both the County's refusal to allow the Sheriff to replace staff in the County 9-1-1 center to maintain appropriate staffing levels and the County's consideration of changing operational oversight from the Sheriff to the County Board."
The letter went on to say if the 911 center is funded properly and staffed properly, then the sheriff is the appropriate person to operate the center.
McNamara and Jury went on to ask county leaders to allow the sheriff to run the 911 center while all county leaders wait for a third party study reviewing its operations is completed.
Mayor Jury, and another of other municipal leaders from around Winnebago County, were in attendance for tonight's committee meetings.
The proposal was ultimately read-in for the first time at the full county board meeting tonight, although no further discussion was had. The next time the issue will be discussed will be at next week's finance committee meeting.
Speaking of next Thursday, Sheriff Gary Caruana is expected to re-submit a budget amendment that asks for $31,283 to hire two 911 Center Supervisors and five dispatchers for this budget cycle. Next year, this amendment would be $364,077 for the annual cost.
Caruana says these positions are needed to make sure the county's 911 services continue effectively.
"I asked for it a few weeks ago and they turned it down, so I'm hoping they take another crack at it and pass it," said Caruana on Tuesday. "It's going to impact county services If they don't pass it, we need folks to run it. I'm looking at all the variables to try and be more effective and efficient."
13 News will continue to follow this story and provide updates as we get them.