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Article posted: 11/20/2012 4:52 PM

DuPage alternative sentencing program spared budget ax

By Robert Sanchez

DuPage Sheriff John Zaruba says he will continue to support an alternative sentencing program as long as the county board doesn't force him to eliminate seven full-time deputy positions.

Zaruba earlier this month threatened to suspend the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program, or SWAP, if he had to cut seven deputy jobs as part of a county request to slash $1.5 million from his office's $40.7 million annual budget.

But on Tuesday morning, Zaruba told county board members he is willing to continue SWAP as long as he only has to reduce his sworn staff by two. He then would eliminate six civilian staff positions to reduce the department's authorized head count to 530.

"I am asking for flexibility in implementing those reductions," Zaruba said to members of the county board's judicial and public safety committee.

Zaruba said SWAP has been an important program since it was implemented in 1995 to free jail space. Offenders sentenced to the program perform community service throughout the county, including cleaning up roadside trash and removing gang graffiti.

"No one knows better than I the importance and value that this program provides to the community and the criminal justice system," said Zaruba, adding that the program was developed through his efforts.

Zaruba explained that he sent a Nov. 6 letter announcing that SWAP was going to be suspended because "something had to change" to meet the head count reduction. "That something was the non-mandated SWAP program," he said.

It's not the first time the program has been in jeopardy. SWAP was cut in 2007 as the county looked to trim operational budgets in every office. It returned two years later.

Zaruba said the latest decision to keep SWAP was made after he met with the state's attorney, chief judge and many county board members.

"With this head count alternative, SWAP will remain a viable part of our county's criminal justice system," said Zaruba, adding that all the staff cuts will be done through attrition.

DuPage officials have said the goal of the county's proposed $431.8 million budget plan isn't to lay off anyone. Instead, the intention is to let positions go unfilled as employees leave.

County board members are expected to vote Nov. 27 on a final draft of the budget. The county's fiscal year begins Dec. 1.

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