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Tow fund could be limited to vehicles, maintenance

Revised ordinance must be approved by county board

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 9:16 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 11:25 a.m. CDT

OREGON – Ogle County took a step toward adding restrictions on the sheriff's department's administrative tow fund.

The Ogle County Executive Committee approved limitations to what the sheriff could use that fund for, adding and removing language to a single paragraph of the ordinance that was passed in 2011.

The changes were made during the committee's regular meeting Tuesday night and will have to be approved by the full county board during its meeting Feb. 18.

Click here to see reporter Matt Mencarini's coverage from the meeting

After the meeting, Ogle County Chairman Kim Gouker said another ordinance will have to be passed, likely next month, which will set the specific sources of revenue for the tow fund. Gouker said an ordinance of that nature should have been passed in 2011.

In December, Sauk Valley Media reported on the tow fund, which isn't listed on the county's budget but is audited, and the expenses Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn was using it for, which included purchasing a new vehicle, flowers for Secretaries Day, a tent at the county fair and $4,000 for the department's Facebook page to be managed.

On Saturday, Sauk Valley Media reported that about $70,000 – nearly one third of the $210,000 deposited into the tow fund account – came from sources other than administrative tow fees.

The wide variety in expendures, according to the original language of the ordinance, were allowed because the funds could be used "at the discretion of the sheriff for law enforcement related activities including the purchase or maintenance of police vehicles equipment or training."

Last week, Gouker told Sauk Valley Media that the tow fund was set up "fairly loosely" in 2011, and it was the sheriff's idea to make changes because of the controversy surrounding the fund.

Those changes were discussed during the County Security Committee meeting earlier Tuesday, Gouker said, adding that the new language refers to a "tow fund" for the first time.

Harn wasn't present during the Executive Committee meeting.

With the revised ordinance, the sheriff can still use the funds at his discretion, but they must be used for "law enforcement related activities limited to the purchase, repair or maintenance of police vehicles, vehicle equipment or fuel."

During the meeting, board member Patricia Nordman made a motion to add the word "vehicle" before the word "equipment." The motion was unanimously approved, as was the revised ordinance.

The sheriff will still be allowed to purchase vehicles from the tow fund, but, according to the reworded ordinance, "shall be done only with the advice and consent" of the county board that oversees the sheriff's department's budget.

Additionally, the sheriff will make monthly reports to that overseeing committee, which is currently called the County Security Committee, about the expenditures from the tow fund.

Forensic audit

The Ogle County Finance, Insurance and Personnel Committee met before the Executive Committee Tuesday night. During that meeting, a possible forensic audit of the sheriff's department expenses was discussed.

Board member Richard Petrizzo called for a forensic audit of all spending by the sheriff’s department, according to a report by Ogle County News, during the Jan. 21 county board meeting.

Petrizzo pushed for the forensic audit again Tuesday night, but no action was taken, as the committee decided to wait until the results of the annual audit were received.

Those results could be released in April, Gouker said, with the possibility of department heads seeing some information in the middle of March.

Committee members said they would support a forensic audit, if the auditors brought back evidence that the tow fund was being used fraudulently.

Next meeting

The Ogle County Board next meets at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Ogle County Courthouse, 105 S. Fifth St. in Oregon, in room 317.

Go to www.OgleCounty.org or call 815-732-3201 for an agenda or more information.

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