Costs to end cash bail in Kane County drop, but officials still eyeing possible new sales tax
Immediately after they learn their fates in the June primary election, Kane County Board members may face a vote that will affect how voters feel about them in the November general election -- a tax increase.
The county board's 24 members listened to an updated cost projection this week for implementing Illinois' key justice system reform legislation -- the SAFE-T Act. The good news is the projected costs now stand at $21.4 million over the next three fiscal years. That's about $5 million less than earlier estimates.
The bad news is the county board still doesn't have a plan for how to pay for that.
Kane County is one of three pilot sites in the state that will start seeing the impact of the SAFE-T Act next January. The legislation ends the cash bail system. Reform supporters believe cash bail keeps people locked in jails without being convicted of any crime simply because they can't afford to pay the bail that would free them.
But that means a much more detailed review of who should be kept in jail while awaiting trial. The county's judicial system experts say bond calls that usually took a maximum of two hours a day will routinely take six hours a day under the new legislation.
The act also means a slew of new government employees -- lawyers, clerks, psychologists, 911 operators -- will be needed to take in, process, review and share the information needed to determine who should be kept in jail.
That includes dealing with hours of bodycam footage from police calls as every department implements the devices for the first time.
"I wish my chair had a seat belt on it, because I'm blown away," said county board member Drew Frasz as the court staff detailed the needs and costs. "This has got to be the single biggest expansion of local government in the history of the state."
The true impact is unknown, said Chief Judge Clint Hull, because these are changes never tried before anywhere in the country.
"It is a massive piece of legislation, the biggest I've seen," Hull said. "It's a huge impact. I think we're going to get there. It's going to be messy, but we're going to work together to get this done."
The county board's part is finding the money to pay for all the new employees and the space for the employees to work.
County Board Chair Corinne Pierog set a deadline for the county board to find the money in existing funds by the end of June. Otherwise, she said, she'll bring forward a vote in July for a referendum that will ask voters to create a countywide sales tax.
The tax would apply to common purchases like clothes and dining out. Amounts discussed so far would add 50 cents to every $100 of such purchases. Voter approval is required for the county to create the tax.
County board member Bill Lenert said the county already has the money. Part of that is the costs are spread over three years, including $5 million in 2023.
"I think what (the court staff) have done is shown we can afford this," Lenert said. "And we can do that really with little or no American Rescue Plan money or no tax increase in any way, shape or form in the next year or two."
Other county board members, Democrats, in particular, are skeptical about handling the additional long-term costs without a tax increase.