WSIU InFocus: Public Safety Budget

Jan 8, 2015

Our week-long series about how agencies that receive state funds are preparing for an uncertain budget scenario continues today with the impact on public safety.

Just like others that receive state funding, public safety departments are taking a wait and see approach in preparing for the likelihood of budget cuts, with the state income tax rate dropping back to 3.75% and the uncertainty over how Governor-elect Bruce Rauner's administration will deal with the shortfall.

The Illinois Department of Corrections is working with Rauner's team on possible budget scenarios.

Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer.

"So what we do, is we take a look at what the percentage might be - more or less. In this case, we're talking about a possible reduction. We're looking at that, and applying it in practical terms to what the effect would be on everything from services, to manpower, to dietary - we do millions of meals a year - all of that."

Shaer says corrections has seen its number of employees reduced from around 17,000 workers in 2002 to about 11,000 right now -a 35% reduction. While at the same time, these fewer employees have to deal with more inmates.

"Our number of inmates has increasd between 8% and 10% in the last seven years or so, and our budget has either been trimmed 8% to 10% or remained essentially flat, because some slight increases are offset by the added inmates who come in."

Anders Lindall is a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - the union representing prison workers. He agrees corrections is being squeezed on both ends with fewer staff, and more inmates.

Lindall says the state corrections department will run out of money in the late winter or spring of this year without a supplemental appropriation from the legislature.

He says this is frightening - especially in maximum-security facilities like the Menard Correctional Center in Chester - where dangerous inmates are already sharing cells. He says it's not possible for corrections to suffer further cuts without decimating the department even further.

"The only way would be by releasing inmates, and closing even more prisons, destroying thousands of jobs. That's irresponsible. I haven't heard anyone advocate that."

Police and fire departments are also bracing for a budget reduction.

David Wickster is executive director of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police. He says this reminds him of the budget cuts law enforcement agencies were facing in 2008 at the beginning of the recession. He says departments dealt with it in two ways: layoffs or concessions in their contracts to avert them.

"Furlough days. There were requests to give up negotiated salary increases. There were requests to make bigger contributions toward health insurance costs, reduce paid holidays and premium pay."

Wickster says some departments are already laying off officers in anticipation of a funding reduction. But he says the size of a law enforcement agency is often a major factor in how it handles budget cuts, with small units unable to cut personnel.

There are 68 sworn officers on the Carbondale Police Department. Mayor Don Monty says with some turnover each year, personnel cuts are not out of the question.

"With a police department that large, if you wanted to, for budgetary reasons, cut back on the number of people, one thing you could do is go by attrition. If a vacancy occurs, you don't fill it."

Monty says the fire department's staffing is at a minimum level that does not allow for personnel cuts. He says that means the city would likely have to look at cutting incidental expenses such as firefighter training and equipment purchases.

Monty says Carbondale is already behind the eight ball because the City Council has directed the city manager to find $80,000 in the budget to offset increases in police and fire pension costs.

But, it's not all doom and gloom. Energy Chief of Police Shawn Ladd says his department has found alternative funding sources.

He says it's almost unheard of for a department the size of his to have a K-9 unit. But, his is funded entirely through local and corporate business donations.

"We go out and talk to businesses, and talk to the people who are doing well in the community, who prosper from our money and tax dollars being spent in this community, and we ask them to give back a little bit."

Ladd says their K-9 unit is fully funded by an annual fundraiser, which last year raised $25,000.
The chief says this has played a huge role in allowing him to actually increase his personnel in recent years.

Ladd says Energy has 28 police officers made up of 4 full-time, 15 part-time and 9 auxiliary officers.
Finding ways to cope with budget reductions have become a way of life for public safety departments.

Officials say the uncertainty right now just adds to the stress for employees who already work in pressure packed jobs. But, as we've illustrated, it's also forced some of them to become more creative in how they make up for the shortfalls.