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Article updated: 11/14/2012 9:17 PM

Plan to disband Winfield Police Department dropped

By Robert Sanchez

A highly controversial plan to have the DuPage County sheriff's office take over police protection in Winfield has been scrapped.

Winfield Trustee Tim Allen said he was notified Wednesday by the sheriff's office that it's not interested in participating in the outsourcing proposal, which village officials were considering to raise money to fix the town's deteriorating streets.

"It's done," said Allen, one of two trustees assigned to negotiate with the sheriff. "I wish we could have gotten to the point where we had a finished contract and knew what kind of savings we were talking about."

But contracting the sheriff's office would have meant disbanding the Winfield Police Department. And voters last week overwhelmingly supported an advisory ballot question urging Winfield to keep its own police force.

In Wednesday's Daily Herald, county board Chairman Dan Cronin said he hoped Winfield leaders would listen to the 87 percent of voters who want the police department saved.

"My guess is they will respect the viewpoint of the people in that town," Cronin said, "and then they'll go back to the drawing board and figure out how to provide their own police protection."

Cronin also said he believed it would be "highly unlikely" that the county board would support the outsourcing plan.

Allen blamed Cronin's comments for influencing the sheriff's office to back out of talks with the village.

"I'm disappointed that with six months of heads up, nobody at the county board sent us a letter saying, 'You guys are barking up the wrong tree. Let it go,'" Allen said. "Because we would have."

But Trustee Jay Olson said he believes Winfield's efforts to negotiate with the sheriff's office were sabotaged back in May when Trustee Erik Spande broke ranks and revealed that both sides were in talks.

Word of the meetings created firestorms in Winfield and on the county board.

"What Trustee Spande did didn't help," Olson said. "In no way were we ever doing secret meetings. Everything was above board. We were pursuing information to consider all our options."

Now Winfield can't even rely on extra revenue from video gambling because voters approved a ban of the machines.

The voters also rejected a property tax hike that would have generated $850,000 to $900,000 a year. The village was planning to use that money to fix roads and bolster its underfunded police pension fund.

"We are running out of options to take care of the services we need to deliver," Olson said.

As a result, Trustee James Hughes says the board must consider a proposal to downsize the police department.

The plan would reduce the size of the force from 17 sworn staff members to 13. To achieve that number, buyouts would be offered to four senior staff members who are at or near retirement age.

Hughes said he believes it's possible to restructure the department "while maintaining the level of service that's right for our village."

He insists the plan could save Winfield between $300,000 to $500,000 a year.

"I believe it's the right option," said Hughes, adding that Winfield can't afford to do nothing.

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