PEORIA — County Board members voted 16-2 on Tuesday to restore funds to the county sheriff's office for mental health and job-retraining programs for detainees, and to hire a social worker and civil attorney in the state's attorney's office to serve as a link to members of the minority community.
Both are in response to addressing systemic issues that have come to the forefront since the police-involved killing of George Floyd, an African American man, in Minneapolis.
Funding cuts approved by the board last month in response to revenues cut by the COVID-19 pandemic would've forced Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell to halt behavioral and mental health programs and his job-retraining program at the jail.
Now, with roughly $450,000 restored, Asbell will be able to keep both initiatives, and is looking to add another employee — possibly an ex-offender — to the job-retraining effort.
"I'm excited in the fact that I can grow these at a point I really want to go," he told board members.
Some money would also bolster Asbell's patrol division, helping the county to keep contracts with rural communities without their own police forces.
State's Attorney Jodi Hoos, meanwhile, will receive $104,000 to hire a new, civil-division attorney — "not a prosecutor," she emphasized — to be a liaison toward minority communities, and a social worker to help with outreach to help keep people out of the criminal justice system.
"This is a step toward progress, a step to bridge a divide that has been there for a very, very long time," Hoos said.
She plans to seek input members of organizations within the minority community on how that attorney can be most useful before hiring anyone, Hoos promised.
Board member Kate Pastucha described the move for the sheriff's office as "reallocating resources so that those very important programs can continue."
She also praised Hoos for "looking at her role in a new light" and challenged board members to look at the county's entire budget in a more detailed way to put an emphasis on equity.
The board also added $300,000 to fund the county election commission's compliance for a new state law widening mail-in voting, and additional equipment to more swiftly count mailed ballots.
Under the legislation signed by Gov. JB Pritzker earlier Tuesday, election authorities must mail registered voters to offer to supply mail-in ballots. Election Commission director Tom Bride estimates that 55,000 voters or more could cast ballots that way in the fall presidential election.
Bride estimated about $200,000 of that is likely to be reimbursed by the state.
The funds for all three changes to the budget would come from the county's reserves. County Administrator Scott Sorrel told board members that based on current budget estimates — including estimated losses of revenue from the coronavirus pandemic — the county would still be a few million dollars above their minimum reserve fund balance.
The county has a policy of keeping at least a 24 percent reserve — enough to pay for about three months of spending without any revenue — in its general fund.
Board members Brian Elsasser and Matt Windish opposed the proposal. Elsasser said his no vote came partly out of reticence to follow another state mandate, in this case regarding elections.
He also objected to the proposal not moving through the regular board committee process for discussion. Instead, members held a roughly 75-minute budget committee meeting on the proposal immediately before Tuesday's full board meeting.