Probation departments could see cuts in state funding next year

Bethany Krajelis Jun. 18, 2012, 12:39pm

Judy Dallas

Probation departments throughout the state could find themselves with less money next year.

Under one of several budget bills approved by the Illinois General Assembly last month, funding for the state's probation services would drop by about $8 million in Fiscal Year 2013, which begins July 1.

Probation funding falls under the budget of the Illinois Supreme Court, which reimburses counties for providing these services. The high court's FY 2013 budget, which must be approved by the governor in order to take effect, includes a $281.1 million appropriation from the state's general revenue fund, a nearly $7 million cut from its FY 2012 budget.

If signed into law as written, the court would receive about $47 million specifically for probation services next fiscal year.

Probation funding has been on a decline for the past decade, falling from about $78 million in 2002 to $55 million last year.

Judy Dallas, director of Madison County's probation and court services department, said budget cuts over the last 10 years have left her department half-empty. The county's probation department had about 140 employees a decade ago and now has about 75 due to layoffs and attrition, a trend Dallas said she hopes will not continue under next fiscal year's budget.

"We've just had to make do as best we can. We have people doing multiple tasks and handling very heavy caseloads. We also had to get rid of specialized programming in order to just maintain," Dallas said. "We think about [funding] daily, especially since 2009, when we suffered deep cuts and layoffs."

Although probation funding remains a daily thought, Dallas said it's still too early in the budget process to know exactly how her department will be affected. Once the governor acts on the budget bill, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts will use a formula to determine how much each county will get reimbursed for probation services.

That figure could take another six to eight weeks to obtain, Dallas said. And it could take even longer if the governor uses his amendatory veto power on the budget bill and lawmakers try to override his decision during the fall veto session.

David Beery, chief probation officer in DeWitt County who serves as president of the Illinois Probation and Court Services Association, said the nearly 14 percent cut in probation funding "is not good news."

"People are scrambling, trying to figure out what they are going to do," Beery said of the state's probation officials. "Honestly, everyone is pretty much down to the bare bones as far as staffing and there's really no more meat or fat left to cut."

Beery said the state has lost about 600 probation officials since 2006 due to budget cuts. Given the state's current fiscal situation, Beery said his association assumed there might be a slight cut in probation funding next fiscal year, but didn't expect it to be as much as proposed in Senate Bill 2378, the measure that includes the court's budget.

"We were hoping at least to maintain the status quo," he said. "We seemed to have gotten hit worse this year than in the past. I don't know what happened."

Although he was crossing his fingers for the status quo of about $55 million, that number is nowhere near the estimated $90-million it would cost to fully fund the state's probation services.

Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride asked lawmakers during this past spring's appropriations hearings for about $332 million in state funding for fiscal year 2013 with about $95 million earmarked for probation funding.

The court has asked for more than $75 million to fund probation services for the past few years, but has never received its full request. It has, however, has gotten more money after then-Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald reached out to the governor's office, said John McCabe, director of government affairs for the statewide probation association.

In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, McCabe said the court's budget included about $35 million for probation services, spurring Fitzgerald to send written pleas to the governor for more funding. Using discretionary spending authority given to him by the legislature, Quinn gave the court an additional $16 million in FY 2010 and another $20 million in FY 2011, bringing the total amount of probation funding for those two years to about $55 million.

McCabe said the governor does not have that same type of discretionary spending power under next fiscal year's budget, but hopes officials can get probation funding to a level that won't push departments over the edge and into a catastrophe.

During a recent gathering of probation officers in Springfield, Beery said Kilbride informed them are some other funds in the court's budget that might be able to help offset the cuts in probation funding.

Beery, however, understands that Kilbride's comment is not a guarantee and that "you can't always rob Peter to pay Paul because obviously, that money is designated for another use."

Kilbride, Beery said, described probation funding as "a work in progress," adding that the chief justice said he might go back to the legislature in the fall to address the potential funding issue.

But, for now, Beery said probation departments throughout the state "will just have to wait and see and continue planning for cuts and hoping there is some type of miracle."

In addition to the budget bill, McCabe said his group is waiting for the governor to act on Senate Bill 1047, which would impose a $10 fee on defendants in felony, traffic, misdemeanor, local ordinance and conservation cases. The bill calls for these fees to be deposited into the probation and court services fund, a directive McCabe said could help departments partially cope with the funding cut in the court's budget.

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