OREGON – Since late 2011, the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department has used, at the sheriff’s discretion, a fund not reported in the county’s budget to pay a wide range of expenses.
Similar to other county funds, the Administrative Tow Fund has been reviewed – and not found to be inappropriate – by the county’s auditors, Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker said.
During an interview with Sauk Valley Media last week, Gouker, Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn and Bob Coine, identified as the sheriff’s consultant for public relations, defended the fund’s purpose, uses and location off the budget. They also said the fund is used to offset a reduced budget for the Sheriff’s Department.
The tow fund, which was established by a county ordinance on Oct. 19, 2011, allows the county to collect a $350 administrative fee to tow vehicles, like those involved with a DUI arrest.
According to the ordinance, money from the fund can “be used at the discretion of the sheriff, and may be used for law enforcement-related activities including the purchase or maintenance of police vehicles, equipment, or training.”
The tow fund is reviewed by the auditors, Gouker said, but doesn’t appear on the county’s budget, similar to the Sheriff’s Department’s commissary fund.
“We have a lot of funds that are like that,” Gouker said, “in other departments under other elected officials.”
Gouker wants those funds to be given more oversight and be placed in the budget, he said. Asked why they aren’t already, he said that’s been the county’s policy.
“You want to know the honest truth? Because it’s never been done before, which I don’t agree with,” Gouker said. “And because it had never been done before is exactly why I’m looking at doing it differently.”
Nearly 30 funds aren’t listed in the county’s budget – 28 of them listed in the “additional fund appropriations” section. They total about $3.2 million.
The tow fund and commissary fund, however, don’t appear by name. Gouker said the “police vehicle fund” is likely the tow fund.
“We’re just starting our new audit,” Gouker said. “[The tow fund] will be audited. It was audited last year. The sheriff and I have talked about this way before this, about working it, bringing into a different kind of oversight. He’s agreed to that. ... I’ve reviewed it. And the auditors have reviewed it. There’s nothing that is being done in here that hasn’t been reviewed.”
Gouker has wanted to move the unreported funds to the budget for several years, he said, but will work to get the reporting done during 2014 and have them listed on the 2015 budget.
That change is done within the county, he said.
Documents related to spending from the Administrative Tow Fund were obtained by Sauk Valley Media through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Among the checks written from the fund is a $4,000 check made out to “Heartland Studios” for website design and consulting. Coine, the man behind Heartland Studios, was present for the interview with Sauk Valley Media and described his relationship with Harn as a consultant for public relations, the same description Harn confirmed a day later.
Coine received the check, dated Aug. 29, 2013, to run the Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page, Harn said. That check is the only payment Coine has received from the Sheriff’s Department, Harn said, and he doesn’t have a county computer or access to non-public documents, information or records.
Coine, however, was using Harn’s computer before the interview with Sauk Valley Media last week, which was the only time he has used a county computer, Harn said. The sheriff explained that Coine was using it to remove some comments from the department’s Facebook page immediately, rather than waiting until later.
Coine, who was recommended to Harn by another area sheriff, is one of several people Harn said he looks to for advice on running the department or handling aspects of the job.
Other checks written from the tow fund were for a Rochelle Little League sponsorship; Sheriff’s Department-branded materials to hand out to children, which include the department’s name, logo and Harn’s name; a tent at the Ogle County Fair; weapons and ammunition; and auto body work on department vehicles.
Harn took office as sheriff in December 2010. In 2011, his first year in office, the Sheriff’s Department budget was set at $4 million. The budget was reduced to $3.4 million in 2012 and increased slightly for the 2013 fiscal year to $3.5 million, where it remains for 2014.
The tow fund, Harn and Gouker said, is used to offset that reduction and the reduced budget for certain line items.
Instead of filing insurance claims after a department vehicle hits a deer, Harn has, at times, used money from the tow fund for repairs, he said.
Selected tow fund expenses
Below are some selected expenses paid for from the Administrative Tow Fund:
Thomas Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep of Highland, $22,947, invoice dated Jan. 2, 2013:
– The invoice is for the purchase of a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500, from a dealership based in Highland, Ind.
Merlin's Greenhouse & Flowers, $170, June 11, 2013:
– Harn purchased four flowers for Secretaries Day, he said.
RDJ Specialties Inc., $5,437.59, June 18, 2013, company based in Memphis:
– Harn purchased 1,500 "foldable frisbees," 1,500 plastic bags and 1,000 coloring books to hand out at the county fair and during other events.
George Enstrom, $1,600, Aug. 13, 2012:
– Enstrom, a lawyer, requested and paid for an out-of-state prisoner to be transported to Ogle County to testify in a civil lawsuit, Harn said. The money was refunded when his department no longer needed to make the transport, the sheriff said..
Ogle County Fair Association, $700, Aug. 20, 2013:
– Harn paid for a tent at the Ogle County Fair, which, he said, he uses for public outreach and education.
Heartland Studios, $4,000, Aug. 29, 2013:
– Harn paid Bob Coine to run the Sheriff's Department's Facebook page.