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Exelon among other contributors to Ogle sheriff's tow fund

Revenue sources could be limited next month

Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 27, 2014 8:36 p.m. CDT
Caption
Michael Harn
Caption
Kim Gouker

OREGON – The Sheriff's Department's administrative tow fund could get further restrictions next month, limiting its sources of revenue, the Ogle County Board chairman said this week.

The board already has limited how the tow fund can be spent.

Last month, Sauk Valley Media reported that nearly a third of the revenue in the fund came from sources other than towing fees.

The tow fund, which was established by a county ordinance in 2011, allowed the Sheriff's Department to collect $350 for specific tows to offset administrative fees.

The ordinance's original intent, County Board Chairman Kim Gouker said, was to bring in revenue without increasing a tax levy. When the ordinance was written, the focus was on the increased revenue, he added, not restricting its revenue sources or expenses.

"It's kind of how ordinances are written," Gouker said. "We try to look at scenarios and unintended consequences. At the time, it looked like it was sufficient, and it probably was. But our board felt that we needed to change it."

The tow fund, along with several other funds, doesn't appear on the county budget.

Documents obtained by Sauk Valley Media through Freedom of Information Act requests showed that between October 2011 and November 2013 the Sheriff's Department collected $210,400 for its administrative tow fund and withdrew $158,132.

However, a review of the 401 pages of tow fee receipts showed that only $140,000 had been collected from towing vehicles.

The other $70,000 came from other sources, including reimbursements from the state for prisoner transports and reimbursements and donations from Exelon Corp.

In an email on Feb. 28, Sheriff Michael Harn said that before those other sources of revenue were diverted into the tow fund, they were "deposited with the Treasurer's Office as a line item credit for the Sheriff's Office fees."

Exelon, the Chicago-based company that runs the Byron nuclear power plant, contributed the largest share of the money not coming from tow fees.

"Exelon was billed a reimbursement for meals during training," Harn said in an email. "Meals were initially purchased by the Sheriff's Office using the tow fund money. Additionally, Exelon donated money for the purchase of a police vehicle and other equipment."

There are three deposits into the tow fund from Exelon for a total of $32,207.46. The largest of those deposits was a $30,000 check that was deposited on June 6.

On Dec. 11, the department wrote a check from the tow fund for $24,297 to Thomas Dodge, of Highland, Ind., for a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500.

There are numerous deposits from the State of Illinois, including money from the Department of Corrections for prisoner transport (35 cents a mile) and from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

The reimbursements for prisoner transport were deposited into the tow fund, Harn said in an email, to got toward fuel purchases.

Ogle County municipalities, including Forreston, Byron, Hillcrest and Mount Morris, also contributed money into the tow fund, for Illinois Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS) usage and for tires for law enforcement vehicles.

"Vehicle tires are bulk purchased by the Sheriff's Office and were sold to a village for use on their squad car at cost, and we were reimbursed for our cost for tires," Harn wrote in an email.

The Sheriff's Department also provides training for other county law enforcement agencies, Harn said, including weapons, 911, communication and emergency management training, among others.

"None of which we have billed these other entities for," Harn said. "Expenses for these services are absorbed by the Sheriff's Office via ordinary overhead."

County tightens grip

In December, Sauk Valley Media reported that Harn had used money from the tow fund to pay for repairs for department vehicles, a tent at the Ogle County Fair, a $4,000 management fee for the department’s Facebook page, and flowers for Secretaries Day, among other expenses.

The original tow fund ordinance allowed the sheriff to use the fund at his discretion, for a variety of department needs. Harn defended all expenditures from the fund, saying they were for department purposes.

In February, the County Board voted to limit the fund's use to the purchase and repair of department vehicles and fuel, and removed language allowing for money to be spent at the sheriff's discretion.

To go along with the restrictions from February, expenditures from the tow fund are now supposed to go through the county treasurer’s office.

However, last week Treasurer John Coffman told the County Board that he had so far received no records from Harn.

The restrictions on the revenue sources, which Gouker said could be implemented in April, will come from the Executive Committee and then must be approved by the full county board.

While Gouker said he didn't want to speak for the entire Executive Committee, the restrictions could limit the fund's revenue to tow fees and possibly funds for insurance reimbursements so vehicles could be repaired quickly.

Documents request has gone unfulfilled

OREGON – A Freedom of Information Act request sent to the Ogle County Sheriff's Department has been unfulfilled for 27 days.

The request, sent Feb. 17, was for information about a 2013 fiscal year grant, information about seized vehicles, and information about an aspect of Sheriff Michael Harn's training.

Information about the grant was made available March 12. As of Wednesday, the remaining documents had not made available.

By law, a public body has 5 working days to respond to a FOIA request or request an extension. On Feb. 24, Harn extended the deadline to March 3, saying the request couldn't be fulfilled by the Feb. 24 deadline without "unduly burdening or interfering with our operations."

On Friday, March 7, in response to an email from Sauk Valley Media requesting an update on the unfulfilled request, Harn said he had "been home sick all week" and that his secretary was out of the office for a family emergency.

If he wasn't in the hospital that following Monday, Harn said, he would check on the status.

In an email that Monday, Harn said he was in the hopsital, but not for something serious. He was responding to work emails on his phone, he said.

The next day, March 11, Harn responded to an email by saying he was back at work and would " find out what's going on" with the request, but that he was in committee meetings all day and dealing with a dead body that was found that morning near Rochelle.

The county's website lists Harn and Lt. James Getzelman as the department's FOIA officers. It's the only county department that lists more than one FOIA officer.

Getzelman didn't return a message March 11 asking an update on the FOIA request.

In an email March 12, Harn said that a third of the original request could be picked up at the sheriff's department. When asked about a timeline for the remaining documents, Harn said: "I'll check."

Harn didn't respond to requests for comment this week.

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