An effort to avoid what some view as dangerous public safety cuts in Kane County failed in a close vote Tuesday that also saw the county board erase a $5.9 million deficit for 2018.
A coalition of mostly Democratic board members pitched a last-minute plan that would have spent down reserve funds instead of implementing a 3.6 percent cut to spending across all departments. Board member Theresa Barreiro wrote the proposal and pushed for emptying the county's property tax freeze protection fund and taking another $2.14 million from the county's emergency reserves to fill the budget gap.
"We have set up the reserves for this reason," Barreiro said. "There is no reason why we are not using this money. Now is the time we need to dip into those funds. This is a public service issue. This is not a dollar issue."
The budget approved by the board eliminates the county's electronic home monitoring program. The unit provides 24/7 surveillance of people charged with crimes and awaiting trial. The idea is to allow those defendants to continue working, and the unit also monitors people who are not in jail but have orders of protection against them for stalking and other crimes.
"All it's going to take is one domestic violence case that goes badly involving someone who would have been monitored, and now you're not just talking about dollars; you're talking about someone's life," board member Mark Davoust said. He was one of two Republicans to support Barreiro's amendment.
Davoust said 2018 sets up as a year that will see intense budget battles with other countywide elected department heads because of the impact of the cuts. He said that's what board Chairman Chris Lauzen wants.
"No matter what resolution we offered today, Chairman Lauzen wasn't going to like it because it would remove the possibility of having the battle he wants to have over the internal control statute," Davoust said. "But now he can put it on the board, say this is what we voted for, and fly in the face of the other countywide elected officials."
Lauzen has called for an outside legal opinion on the internal control statute, which is the state law giving each elected official the power to spend money as he or she deems fit after receiving a dollar amount from the board. Lauzen has repeatedly decried the ability of other elected officials to subvert county guidelines on employee bonuses, travel expenses and credit card use because of the internal control statute.
The county board has shunned Lauzen's calls to engage in an in-depth discussion of that law.
State's Attorney Joe McMahon, the focus of many of Lauzen's legal and budgetary gripes, said he's "concerned" about the loss of electronic monitoring.
"There's a need for electronic home monitoring," he said. "It's a cheaper alternative to putting people in jail."
County judges and Sheriff Don Kramer, also targeted during the 2018 budget debate, will decide what the impact of the program cut will mean on the jail population and things like overtime costs for the guards.
McMahon said he might stop employing outside legal counsel, including the labor attorney for union contract negotiations. All 13 of the county's union contracts are up for renegotiation.
Lauzen refrained from comment Tuesday, saying only that Barreiro's budget amendment came too late in the process, after dozens of public meetings, to warrant serious consideration.