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Illinois hunting and fishing

Winnebago County Sheriff Deputies Tim McGinness (left) and Tom Brimhall ride on a trail Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve in Cherry Valley. Photo by Scott Morgan.

Cheaper cost, same police presence for Winnebago County forest preserves

September 20, 2012 at 09:14 AM

Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD — Sheriff’s deputies will continue to conduct regular patrols of Winnebago County forest preserves at a price the district can afford.

Winnebago County Forest Preserve District commissioners approved a new contract with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday that cuts costs by nearly 42 percent compared to the previous $308,000-per-year agreement for police services.

Commissioners and Sheriff Dick Meyers say the cheaper cost won’t lead to fewer officers on patrol. That’s because the agreement includes a cost sharing plan that requires the sheriff’s department to pay deputies’ salaries for three months of the year in exchange for the ability to use forest preserve police on other department calls when needed.

“It balances budget requirements with the need to make sure our forest preserves are safe,” Meyers said.

Meyers said, as an example, that a forest preserve deputy could be called to an accident outside of the preserves if that deputy is closest to the call.

“If something then happens within the forest preserve, we’ll send one of the other squads,” he said.

Commissioners at the meeting unanimously approved the contract. Commissioner Randy Olson was absent.

The nearly $180,000 annual contract for police service provides the forest preserve district with two full-time deputies on patrol year round and five reserve deputies to make rounds through the preserves during busy warm weather months when people are most active.

“All of us, when we are out in the preserves, invariably run into at least one patrol car,” Commissioner Judy Barnard said. “I know through our focus groups that people feel very safe in our preserves and that, ultimately, is the goal.”

The district also saved money in the contract by agreeing to employ less experienced deputies at a lower pay grade. It had previously asked for senior-level deputies for its full-time patrol.

“We moved that into a third-year experienced officer,” Meyers said. “When you charge at the senior deputy level that’s big dollars.”

The district will continue to employ Terry Nordberg part-time to coordinate police coverage. The sheriff’s department picks up the other half of his salary.

The contract lasts one year, but is automatically renewed each year unless either the district or sheriff’s department decides otherwise.

The board also selected a treasurer and assistant treasurer on Wednesday. It needed to do so because former treasurer Barnard assumed the role of vice president Sept. 5. Barnard was appointed to that role because former vice president Mary McNamara Bernsten became president after five commissioners voted Aug. 22 to strip Olson of the title.

Commissioners were frustrated with Olson because he had created and hired a public safety director without their consent and planned to launch a police plan that would not rely on the sheriff’s department for patrol.

The board voted 4-1 to name Winnebago County Administrator Steve Chapman as the board’s treasurer.

Chapman often advises the board on its budget and finances. The treasurer does not have to be a voting member of the board. Commissioner Audrey Johnson was named assistant treasurer.

Commissioner Cheryl Maggio voted against the appointments. Commissioner Gloria Lind had not arrived at the meeting at the time of the vote.

Kevin Haas; 815-987-1410; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); @KevinMHaas

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