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Board votes against hiring deputies

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 11:20 a.m. CDT

DIXON - The Lee County Board voted 17-9 on Tuesday against hiring two more deputies.

Members said they wanted more information on the Sheriff's Department's needs.

The decision comes 3 weeks before the Nov. 6 election, which includes every board seat.

The board cut the two positions a few years ago.

Previous story below:

Sheriff wants more deputies

DIXON – Last month, the state’s attorney’s office got permission to hire two more employees. The sheriff said it’s his turn now.

Today, Sheriff John Varga plans to ask the Lee County Board to add two more deputies for the next fiscal year, which starts Dec. 1.

He wants the whole board to vote on the issue – just 3 weeks before the Nov. 6 election, which includes every board seat.

The positions are expected to add $127,000 a year, including benefits, to the Sheriff’s Department’s budget, Varga said.

In September, the board voted unanimously to allow the state’s attorney’s office to hire another prosecutor and clerical employee, adding nearly $100,000 to the budget.

Dixon said he needed the employees because his office was dealing with nine homicide cases. Before he took office in December 2008, he said, Lee County hadn’t had a homicide case in a decade.

Board members said the positions would disappear once the state’s attorney’s caseload returned to normal levels.

Varga said the board’s Finance Committee tells him it has no money for new positions in county government, yet the board added two more for the state’s attorney’s office.

“The inconsistency is very frustrating on my part and the rest of the elected officials,” the sheriff said.

Board members often say they must hold the line on spending because its landfill contract expires next year, which will cut county revenue by $1 million annually.

“All the board continues to talk about is that the contract will end. They don’t discuss how they’ll bring revenue to the county. They never say what the next step will be,” Varga said.

The department has 13 patrol deputies, including two sergeants. Three years ago, it had 15 patrol deputies, but the County Board stopped funding two of the positions, Varga said.

That decision, he said, hurt investigations because detectives were assigned to road patrol. Also, overtime costs have risen, he said.

“Who do you think is doing the work before we get to the state’s attorney’s office?” Varga said. “We’re also dealing with homicides and the same things he [Dixon] is dealing with.”

In May, Dixon told the board the Sheriff’s Department was shorthanded, which impedes his ability to prosecute serious cases because detectives are on road patrol. As a result, the state’s attorney can’t commit to prosecute some cases because of the lack of manpower, he said.

County Board member Dick Binder, R-Compton, said he didn’t think he could make an intelligent decision on the deputies request now.

“He [Varga] needs to present a needs assessment,” Binder said. “Who knows what’s the right number of deputies for Lee County? The state’s attorney presented a pretty good needs assessment. He made his case.”

Member Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon, a former Dixon police officer, backed Varga’s request.

“I think one of our obligations as County Board members is the health and safety of Lee County residents,” he said. “He [Varga] is short-staffed right now. For calls for assistance, it may be a long wait.”

To attend

The Lee County Board will meet at 9 a.m. today on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon.

The board will consider Sheriff John Varga's request for two more patrol deputies.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings, or more information, go to www.leecountyil.com or call 815-288-5676.

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