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McHenry County sheriff's candidates differ on budget

Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 4:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 5:55 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – Candidates for the next Sheriff of McHenry County are at odds over the Office's budget – with one candidate calling its finances ballooning, while his opponent calls that view misguided.

Bill Prim and Andy Zinke are squaring off for the Republican party's nomination to fill the office held by retiring Sheriff Keith Nygren.

Prim, a retired Des Plaines police commander, says that spending at the Sheriff's Office is out of control. While the overall budget did increase, it was not to the extent that Prim cited.

Prim blasted the office for a 35 percent increase in its budget from 2008 to 2012, saying he pulled numbers for a previously released news release from the county's website.

The overall budget increase was 15.9 percent during that same time period, according to figures provided by McHenry County administration.

Zinke, McHenry County Undersheriff, says the increases in the budget are tied primarily to employee salaries and benefits, by way of union contracts approved by the County Board. Of the Sheriff's Office 409 employees, 323 are unionized, the Office said.

"His opinion of the budget is naive, and lacks clear understanding of the budget process," Zinke said. "… The only thing out of our control is salaries, health insurance and pension benefits. That's not decided by the sheriff. It's decided through collective bargaining and the County Board."

In an earlier interview with the Northwest Herald, Prim said he wants to cut costs but said he has no intention of reducing the office's rank-and-file employees. Rather, he'd look to eliminate positions such as those he called "nonessential support staff." He said the office continues to add employees despite a downturn in the economy.

"Would I be coming in there and just cutting the service staff, no," Prim has said. "One: you can't – a lot of those people are protected under collective bargaining units. [I'd] go in there and assess, and evaluate what [I] consider to be nonessential jobs. … There's a few jobs I'd look into."

Specifically, he pointed to the Office's Equal Opportunity Officer and CALEA Manager. Those two positions make a combined $140,315.19 annual salary.

The Sheriff's Office budget is broken down four ways, County Administrator Peter Austin explained: salaries and benefits, contractual services, commodities, and capital outlay. Salaries aside, the remaining three funds have fluctuated year over year. Comparatively, they're a small portion of the sheriff's office total budget.

In 2008, the Sheriff's Office spent $22.2 million on personnel, and $26.9 million by 2012. That's a $4.7 million, or 21.2 percent, increase. The Northwest Herald used 2012 figures because the current fiscal year is not yet completed.

The county-board approved budget for 2014 anticipates spending $28.8 million on personnel services. The board OK'd a total $33.3 million budget for the Sheriff's Office in the 2014 fiscal year.

The Primary election is March 18. The winner is expected to face Woodstock attorney and former sheriff's deputy Jim Harrison who announced his intention to run as an independent candidate in the November General Election.

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