OREGON – The Ogle County Sheriff’s Department last fall reimbursed the state more than $30,000 for expenses it thought were covered by a grant but turned out to be ineligible.
Most of the $30,536 sent to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency on Oct. 31 was a reimbursement for the purchase of office furniture for an emergency operations center. The furniture was bought for $28,723 by Sheriff Michael Harn after the deadline had passed for spending the money.
The purchase of a $2,500 trailer also was determined to be ineligible under the terms of the Illinois Plan for Radiological Accidents grant.
The money was returned to the state a day after the IEMA sent a letter to the Ogle County Emergency Management Agency of the Sheriff’s Department.
The IEMA letter, and the Sheriff’s Department’s response, were obtained by Sauk Valley Media through Freedom of Information Act requests to both agencies.
The county had 1 year to spend the grant money – from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013. But two purchases of furniture were made after the deadline – by 12 and 17 days.
“I don’t think it’s real common,” IEMA spokeswoman Patti Thompson said of late purchases. “I think the grant periods are pretty well known.”
Thompson also said the 2013 fiscal year grant was the only one by IEMA to Ogle County that had ineligible purchases.
A document provided by Ogle County shows that 20 of the 22 purchases from the grant money were made between Jan. 23, 2013, and May 15, 2013.
The final two purchases, for the furniture, were the only two authorized by Harn.
The sheriff didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
The purchase of a Duracraft 12-foot enclosed trailer wasn’t approved in the grant’s budget, and wouldn’t have been approved by IEMA, Thompson said, even if the Sheriff’s Department had asked for approval under the initial agreement.
Additionally, because the department didn’t have a functional emergency operations center at the time that IEMA’s letter was sent, Ogle County didn’t receive the $46,770 it had requested for a 2014 fiscal year grant. Instead, it was given $31,570.
The 2014 fiscal year grant had remained pending while the 2013 fiscal year grant issue was resolved.
In their Oct. 31 response to the state, Harn and Candace Humphrey, the head of the county’s emergency management agency, referred to the reimbursement being paid so quickly.
“If at all possible we would encourage Ogle County’s [fiscal year 2014] grant monies sent to us in the same diligence as we mailed your refund,” the letter said. “We are attempting to procure several items that are needed for the Nov. 20 Byron [power plant] exercise so the FY14 grant funds are needed expeditiously.”
Documents requests still unfulfilled
Sauk Valley Media has made two Freedom of Information Act requests to the Ogle County Sheriff's Department, dating back to February, that remain unfulfilled:
• A request for information on seized vehicles sent Feb. 17; Sheriff Michael Harn asked for 5 additional days to respond.
• A request for information about Harn's training and related stipends or compensation sent Feb. 17; Harn asked for 5 additional days to respond.
State law requires public bodies to respond to a FOIA request or ask for an extension within 5 business days.