DIXON – The Lee County Board on Tuesday rejected the sheriff’s request for two more deputies.
The board voted 17-9 against it, with many members saying they needed more information on the Sheriff’s Department’s needs.
“If nine homicides don’t get your attention, I don’t know what will,” Sheriff John Varga said.
The board’s decision came 3 weeks before the Nov. 6 election, which includes every board seat.
The price tag was $127,000. The Sheriff’s Department now has 13 patrol deputies, including two sergeants.
Last month, State’s Attorney Henry Dixon got permission to spend nearly $100,000 annually for the next 2 years for a prosecutor and a clerical employee.
Making his case, Dixon said his office was dealing with nine homicides. Before he took office in December 2008. Lee County hadn’t had a homicide in a decade.
“There’s always a need for more deputies – that’s easy to say,” said Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, chairman of the board’s Finance Committee. “This is not the proper time. We’re in negotiations with unions. We’re going to start a wage freeze.”
Board Chairman Jim Seeberg, R-Ashton, favored the deputies, saying the county had more than $5 million on hand.
“My thing is you keep waiting,” Seeberg said in response to Ketchum. “What about the people in the county who need more deputies?”
Member Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon, noted his 22 years of experience as an officer, saying the county needed more deputies.
“We could put them at serious risk of injury or being killed,” he said.
But other members, including Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, asked the sheriff to provide more information on the department’s needs, including comparisons with other counties.
Witzleb said he didn’t like comparisons with other counties, saying the Dixon state prison brought in “bad people.”
“These are things you need to look at. We can’t just compare with Whiteside or Ogle County,” he said.
Ed Fritts, R-Dixon, a member of the Finance Committee, said he had great expectations with the budget. The idea, he said, was to keep spending stable, but the county is facing pressures for more spending.
“Let’s slow down and get our priorities straight,” he said. “No department head will say, ‘I have too many people.’ We need an outside person to look at it. We need a staffing review.”
In July, the board approved a long-range financial plan that included such a review.
After the vote against the deputies, members said they needed to move quickly and hire a consultant for the review.
How they voted
Here's how Lee County Board members voted on a proposal to add two more deputies to the Sheriff's Department:
Bill Palen, R-Dixon
Bob Stevens, R-Dixon
Isaac Mercer, R-Dixon
Charlie Thomas, R-Dixon
Jim Wentling, R-Dixon
Marvin Williams, R-Dixon
Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon
Arlan McClain, R-Dixon
Jim Seeberg, R-Ashton
David Gusse, R-Dixon
Ed Fritts, R-Dixon
Steve Kitzman, R-Dixon
Marilyn Shippert, R-Dixon
Vern Gottel, R-Sterling
Gerald Leffelman, R-Sublette
Judy Truckenbrod, R-West Brooklyn
Bernie Buckley, R-Dixon
Joe Patzer, R-Dixon
Tom Demmer, R-Dixon
John Nicholson, R-Franklin Grove
Ann Taylor, R-Amboy
David Chandler, R-Dixon
John Ferrone, R-Dixon
Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy
Dick Binder, R-Compton
Allyn Buhrow, R-Ashton
Lisa Zeimetz, R-Paw Paw
Kathy Hummel, R-Dixon