“If we had an unlimited budget, it would be simple,” Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing told the Republic-Times Monday. “But we don’t. Our goal, therefore, is to provide the absolute best protection possible while not being wasteful, and cutting costs where we can.”
Last fiscal year’s annual budget for the department was $2.8 million. This year’s budget is $3 million.
Last fiscal year, the department returned $22,089.80 of its budget to the county’s general fund.
Rohlfing cited several looming costs for this and future years.
“The jail building is 30 years old. The roof was projected to last 30 years. If it needs replacement this year, or soon, it will cost in the neighborhood of $150,000 to S200,000,” he said. “The generator here is also aging, and with dispatching needs and prisoners present, we are told there are no spare parts for it.”
Information technology is another drain on department finances, with such costs difficult to plan for as they tend to creep up. Laptop computers in patrol vehicles go out, the servers in the jail are aging, and software programs change often without sufficient notice.
Some work carried out by the department earns money for the county. Fees charged for serving papers deposited more than $300,000 into the county’s general fund last year.
Another money-maker is the practice of housing federal prisoners in the jail when census is low. That practice began in June 2015. Since then, the MCSD has earned about $215,000 in federal funds that have gone into the county’s general fund.
“If they are able, almost every county in Illinois houses federal inmates due to financial burdens and to alleviate costs for their taxpayers,” Rohlfing said.
The federal inmates are mostly white-collar criminals with a few serving time for drug offenses, the sheriff said.
“They are not dangerous felons,” Rohlfing assured.
They occupy what would otherwise be empty cells and are overseen by staff members who are already on the clock working regular shifts. The county jail houses an average of four federal inmates at a time, fed by the county feeds with all medical requirements paid for by the federal government.
Other sources of income include Drug Enforcement Agency seizures, which generated some $130,000 last year. These funds must be used for drug enforcement.
The sheriff also spoke about patrol vehicles.
“Chevrolet Impalas are no longer available,” he said.
Impalas are also not the best option for the many miles of rural roads and levees the deputies patrol, Rohlfing added.
“About 100,000 miles was the maximum use we could get from (Impalas),” he noted.
Rather than replace patrol vehicles with the smaller cars being touted as the new generation of law enforcement vehicles, due to the safety of deputies, ease of use on back roads and expected longevity of vehicles, Rohlfing is replacing department vehicles with Chevrolet Tahoes.
The smaller vehicles are difficult for deputies wearing full gear including bullet-proof vests and carrying up to 30 pounds of gear on their belts to get into, and they sit low to the ground, making driving on back roads or off-road nearly impossible.
Rohlfing added that workman’s compensation claims have risen in departments with smaller cars.
Per Rohlfing’s research, the county has started purchasing 2-year-old Tahoes from the Kansas Highway Patrol.
“They have an average of 45,000 miles on them, are obtainable for about $19,000, and departments making this change earlier, tell us we can expect to see 150,000 to 200,000 miles of efficient use out of them,” Rohlfing said.
The sheriff has also increased deputies’ shifts from 10 to 12 hours.
“Deputies approved, and it is working well,” Rohlfing offered, adding it facilitates the requirement to have two deputies on patrol at all times without having to regularly pay overtime.
Rohlfing has reduced the cost of food for inmates by 20 percent per day by having meals provided by Oak Hill senior care center.
Rohlfing said the department has also altered operating practices for the inmate’s commissary.
Items such as coffee, candy bars and noodle soup cups are available for purchase by inmates with funds deposited by family members. These commissary items generate about $4,000 each month for the jail, with proceeds staying in the jail.
“At least weekly, I am focused on ways to cut costs, to save money,” Rohlfing said. “Some things we can anticipate, others not so much.”
To view the sheriff’s department budget and other facts about the department, go to www.MonroeCountyIL.org/departments/sheriff-s-department.html.