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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 12:08 am

Cash crunch hits cops

Jerome reduces police coverage

 

The Village of Jerome has curtailed police patrols, ending a long history of 24/7 police coverage by village officers.

Village police are still on the job, but not around the clock. Reduced coverage began late last month. Village officials cite a number of factors in the decision to reduce coverage.

An officer who suffered an on-the-job injury hasn’t been able to patrol, village officials say, and two other officers have been scheduled to go on vacation simultaneously this month. A budget crunch, village officials say, has prevented the village from hiring replacements.

“That was a decision we had to make because, unfortunately, we don’t have money to hire another police officer,” village trustee Beth Monnat, who oversees the police department, said at a village board meeting last week. “We will keep Jerome safe. … There’s been very few calls, thank goodness.”

Chief Craig Kennedy said that he’s spoken with Leland Grove police about answering calls when village officers aren’t on duty.

“Everything’s running smooth,” Kennedy said.

Chief Deputy Joe Roesch of the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department said that county cops stand ready to help.

“Anytime a smaller agency that’s within the unincorporated area of Springfield needs it, we will help,” Roesch said. “We fully understand the constraints of money and manpower right now with budgets. It’s very unfortunate.”

Trustees at last week’s meeting said they hope to restore around-the-clock police coverage, but no date has been set. Mayor Mike Lopez said he’s asked Kennedy to cover shifts as best as he can without using overtime.

Leland Grove police chief Dan Ryan said that his officers are handling calls in Jerome but not necessarily patrolling the streets.

“When they’ve got an open shift, we’re the primary agency to handle the calls,” Ryan said. “This is probably a short-term solution for us to help out – hopefully, we’re talking short-term for eight to 10 weeks.”

Lopez said that he’s gotten a handful of inquiries from residents about the reduction in police services.

“There has been some concern, but not a lot,” Lopez said. “It has worked very well, so far, from what I’ve been told.”

Lopez said that village coffers have been hurt by late payments from the state on monies owed. For example, the village in December received checks from the state to pay for officers who participated last spring in seatbelt emphasis patrols, he said.

“It’s (the state budget impasse is) finally hitting local government,” Lopez said. “It’s starting to have an effect on us.”

Brad Cole, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League, said that the state’s failure to pass a budget has impacted municipalities to varying degrees throughout the state. Cities such as Springfield have gotten by despite being owed millions of dollars for utility bills, but it’s often tougher for smaller towns.

“Every circumstance is different,” Cole said. “But the smaller communities have much less flexibility because they have fewer resources.”

Sales tax revenue in Jerome is also down, Lopez said. While the opening of Hy-Vee on MacArthur Boulevard might have been good news for the City of Springfield, it has reduced spending at Shop ’n Save, one of the largest businesses in the village. On the other hand, gambling revenue has soared to as much as $7,000 a month, he said, but that money will likely tail off due to the number of video gaming machines that have been installed throughout the area.

“The dollar impact has diminished, because there’s too much saturation,” Lopez said.

The village this month ceased paying a portion of health care premiums for dependents of village employees, which will save nearly $23,000, Lopez said, and Jerome residents can expect other cutbacks. The village board this year will focus more on available revenue than needs as it draws up a budget, Lopez said. Branch pickup that is now a monthly service during the spring and summer months might be reduced to every other month, he said.

“We may reduce the frequency of some things,” the mayor said.  

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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