Sheriff, county board set to spar over budget amendment

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ROCKFORD - Another budget fight between the Winnebago County Board and Winnebago County Sheriff's Office is expected Thursday, as the board weighs a new budget amendment for the embattled department.

Since September of last year, the board and Sheriff Gary Caruana have gone back and forth over the department's budget. County officials made across-the-board cuts to the budget, including a cut of $4.3 million to the sheriff's department budget. Thus far, Caruana has cut $1.7 million.

Caruana has repeatedly said cutting any further would harm public safety in the county and spur possible lawsuits against the sheriff's office, a claim that already came to fruition earlier this year as dozens of lawsuits were filed by Winnebago County Jail inmates alleging improper and extended lockdowns.

In May, the county board approved a $350,000 plan to re-hire 10 correctional officers originally laid off from the jail as part of budget cuts, while 64 reserve deputies remain laid off.

At a public safety committee meeting held Monday, board members and Caruana held heated discussion over a new amendment that would grant the sheriff's office $2.7 million in additional funds.

The committee tied 7-7 in voting on the amendment, only approving an item that added just over $18,000 in new funding.

The full board will meet Thursday and require a supermajority vote to approve the request for additional funding for the sheriff's office.

Caruana said the only way to make sustainable cuts to the department would be to do so over several years, not all at once.

The county board could respond by placing a cap on the total number of employees allowed at the sheriff's disposal to rein in budget margins.

Regardless of the outcome Thursday, the yearlong discussions could come to a head this fall, ahead of the county's fiscal year ending Sept. 30, when the county board approves its annual budget.

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