New DuPage County budget cuts 16 sheriff's deputy jobs
DuPage County Board members on Tuesday approved a spending plan for the coming fiscal year that eliminates 16 full-time deputy positions at the sheriff's office.
The $439.6 million budget, which takes effect Friday, increases the county's overall spending by roughly $5.8 million compared with this year. But that's because the spending plan for fiscal 2018 includes $9 million that was set aside for the construction of a new $15.8 million communications center on the county campus for DuPage Public Safety Communications, known as DU-COMM.
When it comes to operating expenses, DuPage is planning to spend $176.9 million, which is slightly less than this year.
"This is a budget of necessity," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said. "We were dealt a hand of cards, and we did what our obligations required us to do. I am confident that we will fulfill the duties and responsibilities of county government. And we will do more with less."
Because of the loss of more than $3 million in revenue from the state, all countywide offices and departments in DuPage were asked to reduce costs. The sheriff's office was asked to reduce the amount it spends on base employee salaries by 4 percent.
Sheriff John Zaruba planned to reach that goal through retirements and by not filling vacancies.
But county board members said that alone wasn't enough.
On Tuesday, they voted to reduce the sheriff's office's sworn head count to 392 positions. The department currently has 408 sworn deputies, according to the county. That number doesn't include eight already vacant positions.
"I agreed back in September to reduce my salary budget like every other elected official," Zaruba said after the meeting. "I just don't understand why they're trying to handcuff me with the inflexibility of setting the head count (for sworn deputies). But I will continue to do my best."
Zaruba said 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.
However, board members wanted an assurance the sheriff's office would comply with the cuts. Capping the number of deputies during the next fiscal year provides that.
"This is the only way to control some of the spending that's been going on," said board member Grant Eckhoff, adding that the department has exceeded its budget the last two years.
Still, four county board members -- Pete DiCianni, Sean Noonan, Gary Grasso and Tim Elliott -- opposed reducing the number of deputies. They also voted against a resolution that cut the department's total head count by 28 positions to 491 employees.
Elliott said he opposed the reductions because the sheriff's office is facing challenges that include the opioid crisis.
"It feels to me like we are creating a hurdle in our sheriff's ability to address those needs," Elliott said.
County board member Sam Tornatore said he doesn't believe the reducing the head count will have a negative impact on public safety.
"I trust the sheriff that it won't," he said.
But if Zaruba wants the limit on sworn deputies raised during the fiscal year, Tornatore said, he simply needs to ask the county board to increase it.
Meanwhile, Cronin said there's "a new normal," where the county is going to get less financial help from the state. "I think things are going to be more and more difficult for local government," he said.
Even with the financial challenges, DuPage officials decided not to increase property taxes for another year. The county's property tax levy will remain flat at $66.9 million. They also set aside $55.6 million for stormwater, road construction and other capital projects.