DuPage County board, Zaruba clash over proposed cuts to sheriff's office
Less than a week before voting on a budget, DuPage County Board members are butting heads with Sheriff John Zaruba over a plan to reduce the number of sworn deputies in his department.
All countywide offices and departments were asked to cut costs to balance DuPage's budget for the next fiscal year, which starts Dec. 1. The cuts are needed because the county is expected to lose roughly $3.5 million in revenue from the state.
The sheriff's office was asked to reduce spending on employees' base salaries by 4 percent.
Zaruba said he can reach that goal through retirements and by not filling vacancies. But county board members say that alone is not enough and are proposing to reduce the department's sworn head count by 2 percent.
During an often tense meeting Tuesday, Zaruba told members of the board's judicial and public safety committee that reducing his department's head count too much would have a detrimental effect on its ability to staff the county jail, provide courthouse security and patrol unincorporated areas.
"You've already stripped 15 people from me the last few years," Zaruba said. "We're bare-bones."
He insists his plan to keep certain positions vacant and replace some retiring deputies with lower-paid people would save the county roughly $1.4 million -- about $200,000 more than he was asked to cut.
"We're going to get to your number," Zaruba said. "Whatever number that you want to pick for a head count, I don't care. I'm going to make your salary reductions. That's a promise."
Zaruba said the bottom line is that he's doing what he's been asked to do.
"Now let me do my job and you do your job," he told board members.
Still, several board members say they want an assurance Zaruba will comply. Capping the number of deputies during the next fiscal year would provide that.
"The sheriff is asking us to trust him," board member Paul Fichtner said. "We're requesting a verification."
While Fichtner talked about a 2 percent reduction, it's unclear what the actual number would be because there's disagreement on how many sworn deputies are in the sheriff's office.
Zaruba said the department has 415 positions, including nine that are vacant. However, county officials say the department has 408 sworn positions.
Board members are scheduled to vote on the cap -- along with the department's total head count -- on Nov. 28. It's the same day they're expected to approve the 2018 budget.
In the meantime, board member Robert Larsen said he wants to get a report explaining why the sheriff's office needs a certain number of deputies assigned to patrol, jail and courthouse duty.
"We're being asked to make multimillion-dollar decisions on behalf of the taxpayers with numbers that have no context for us," Larsen said. "So all I'm asking is, tell me what the justification is for these numbers."
If the limit on sworn deputies must be raised during the fiscal year, board member Jim Zay said the sheriff's office can ask the county board to increase it.
Still, the cap is needed, he said.
"We're going to do what we have to do," Zay told Zaruba. "Two years ago, you went over by $1 million in your budget. We just don't have that money anymore."