Sheriff wants Boone County Board to approve 5-year, $18.5 million wish list
WednesdayPosted Sep 28, 2016 at 8:08 PM Updated Sep 28, 2016 at 8:08 PM
By Susan Vela
BELVIDERE — Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest has a five-year, $18.5 million wish list some County Board members wish they could ignore.
But Ernest wants more deputies, squad cars and a slew of other public safety requests that address the Sheriff's Department's aging headquarters and maturing equipment.
County Board members say they can’t afford any additional public safety costs while trying to scrape $2.7 million from a proposed $17.4 million general fund budget that would begin Dec. 1 for basic, day-to-day operations.
“If the budget doesn’t hold, you’re not going to see me vote for it,” said County Board member Brad Stark, District 3. “If the money’s not there, the money’s not there. It’s an old building. It is what it is.”
The county’s coffers aren’t what they once were. Since 2008, annual public safety sales tax revenue has declined by at least $400,000 to $1.4 million. Regular sales tax revenue dipped by about $330,000 to $1.5 million over the same period, and motor fuel tax revenue from the state has dropped by about $140,000 to $625,000.
Ernest is requesting two separate five-year capital improvement plans — $1.7 million for more deputies, capital and equipment and $16.8 million for a Public Safety Building expansion and renovation, including about $825,800 in structural repairs, new roof and replaced air conditioners.
The county shares the 41-year-old Public Safety Building, 615 N. Main St., with the city of Belvidere. It houses the Belvidere Police Department, Boone County Sheriff’s Office, Boone County Coroner’s Office and a dispatch center serving both the city and county.
Ernest, who runs his agency with an annual $3.9 million budget, was not able to immediately provide details of the proposed expansion. Half of his approximately 120 staff members work out of the courthouse next to the Public Safety Building.
“The expansion is in the five-year plan as just a reminder only, that an expansion is necessary sometime down the road — a constant reminder!” Ernest wrote in an email. “We are just out of space — the building was built over 40 years ago and both departments have doubled in size since then.”
In the $1.7 million request, he’s asking for 10 deputies, 20 squad cars, 60 radios, 13 semi-automatic Glocks, 36 computer laptops for the cars, evidence processing tools and K9 equipment.
Ernest said he had 44 deputies in 2008, six more than he has today. His squad cars are 2013 models with high mileage. The laptops are aging and require more maintenance. The radios are approaching their life expectancy.
“If we can kind of spread that out over a period of time, it’s actually cheaper in the long run,” Ernest said of the proposed purchases. “If the money’s not there, it really comes down to a priority list. We try to prepare the board and inform them as much as possible. The board has been very good with working with us.”
The county’s financial challenges are exacerbated by uncertainty over public safety tax revenues. County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said Boone County voters in 1999 approved a one-half percent sales tax to pay off bonds used to finance construction of a jail. He said voters were told the tax would retire in 2018, but that’s not in the referendum language.
“It’s really up to the board in 2018 to address that,” Terrinoni said.
Some board members also are satisfied with the sheriff's services.
“I think Boone County residents should and do feel safe in their community,” said Karl Johnson, chairman of the board’s Finance, Taxation & Salaries Committee.
That contentedness stretches into other communities, including the village of Poplar Grove.
Poplar Grove once contracted with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office for $150,000 a year but not anymore because of financial challenges.
“We work with the sheriff all the time,” Poplar Grove Administrator Diana Dykstra said. “We’re very satisfied. The communication has been outstanding with the sheriff’s department.”
Belvidere Police Chief Jan Noble still hopes the sheriff can make some headway. He said the dispatch center isn’t equipped to receive video and texts from community members.
“The equipment is becoming outdated and does not meet the standard for the next generation,” Noble said. "Imagine having a video of a fleeing vehicle with a license plate or maybe a video from a house on fire or a business on fire."
Voters in 2008 twice rejected a sales tax increase to pay for a $13.5 million buildout and renovation of the Public Safety Building.