Even as a Kane County Board committee moved forward with a 2018 spending plan Wednesday that would end electronic monitoring of criminal defendants, brainstorming continued on how to preserve the program.
Lack of communication across the political aisle and disparate views of what needs to happen show dwindling odds for retaining a program that helps manage the jail population and potentially dangerous individuals under surveillance.
The county has 102 people on home confinement or GPS monitoring, including several individuals with domestic violence cases. The county board imposed a 3.6 percent cut on all departments to balance the next budget. One result is the elimination of the monitoring.
County board Democrats view the loss of the program as a prelude to an avoidable violent tragedy.
"We're playing chicken with people's lives," board member Theresa Barreiro said. "People are nervous about this. It's scary, but they won't budge."
The "they" is a reference to the board's Republican members, some of whom see the loss of the program as an inevitability. It will either end as part of the cuts for 2018, or the program could die via even deeper cuts in 2019.
There is a sentiment Chief Judge Susan Clancy Boles controls the program's fate. Board Chairman Chris Lauzen has long pushed for a maximum increase in the county's court security fee to cover the entire cost of court security officers. Only the chief judge can raise the fee.
Raising the fee adds to questions about the price of accessing the justice system and difficulties that already exist in collecting the money.
Republican board member Kurt Kojzarek said the best way to avoid budget cuts is to find new revenue. Raising the court security fee wouldn't eliminate the need to make cuts, he said, but it may be enough to preserve the electronic monitoring program.
"If the chief judge agrees to increase the fee, there would be no need to make the cuts," Kojzarek said. "The idea is that you have this much money allotted. If your budget is more than the allotment, then you either need to find additional income or cut accordingly."
There is some discussion among Democrats about imposing a lesser budget cut on the court services department. A reduction of 1 or 2 percent would make the office share the budget pain but may be low enough to preserve the monitoring program.
That alone, or pairing it with at least some increase in the court security fee, may shift some votes. Discussion of that plan has not crossed the aisle.
Precedent exists within the proposed 2018 budget for not forcing a 3.6 percent cut to court services.
Several departments in the justice system will see more significant cuts: the circuit court clerk, 6.12 percent; public defender, 4.43 percent; and sheriff, 3.64 percent. The draft shows some budgets increasing: auditor, 2.52 percent; coroner, 3.57 percent; clerk, 12.34 percent; and countywide expenses such as computer software and telephones, 11.32 percent.
Some increases are unavoidable. The clerk, for example, has elections to pay for in 2018 that didn't exist in 2017. The coroner refused any cuts on the grounds they will prevent him from fulfilling mandated duties. Meanwhile, the finance department's self-imposed salary reductions meet the call for a total decrease of 4.45 percent.
The county board votes on the 2018 budget Tuesday.