Budget Retreat Raises Concerns Over Public Safety Funding

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If you were to describe the 2006's budget, one word comes to mind: basic.
"It's one that doesn't reflect the kind of growth that one might hope would be there, but very honestly, it's a very tight year for the city as well," Rockford Fire Chief Bill Robertson said.

$275,000 new dollars would go into public safety in the proposed $224 million budget. It means the city's police force would again be at full force. But with city homicides and dispatch calls spiking in 2005, Rockford's top cop says more manpower is essential.

"For the safety of the officers, for the safety of the citizens of this community, I think we need to grow as a department, and I think an acceptable level for the next five years is 50 officers - 10 per year," Rockford Police Chief Dominic Iasparro said.
For the third straight year, the budget calls for Rockford's fire department to remain under firefighter capacity. Many aldermen argued the department is not only under-staffed, but under-appreciated.

"I guess the encouraging part of our budget this year is at least we are going to do a facilities study to see where the fire stations are located, to see if they're in the right place, and then plot where they ought to be placed in the future," Robertson said.

Both department heads admit that to get more services, you have to raise more tax revenues. They say Saturday's budget retreat led to a healthy discussion, a discussion they hope can create new ideas.

"Everybody has concerns, everybody trying to work for the common good of the city, and as time goes on, these issues will be worked out," Iasparro said.

Big issues with no easy answers, inside a massive, multi-million dollar 2006 city budget.