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Local
Aroma Park looks to eliminate its police department

AROMA PARK — Mounting expenses, coupled with rising state requirements, have led to a major shift in policing within Aroma Park.

The village’s police department will likely cease operations on Nov. 1 and turn over its law enforcement duties to the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Department through an intergovernmental agreement.

At the village board meeting this week, trustees agreed by a 4-2 vote to disband the department, currently headed by Police Chief Todd Navratil.

The move would not impact the Aroma Park Fire District as it’s a separate taxing district and is not under the umbrella of the village board.

“This was a very hard decision,” Mayor Brian Stump said. “... We held off on this decision as long as we could. This wasn’t personal. Chief Navratil and his officers did their jobs very well.

“But I had to look at the long-term view. Everything I do I’m trying to look 10 years down the road.”

The view Stump said he saw is that the operation of a department with an approximate budget of $120,000 could not be sustained in a village of just over 660 residents.

Currently, the department is manned by a full-time chief and five part-time officers. The village department provides patrols between the hours of 2 and 10 p.m. on Monday through Friday, with part-time officers typically patrolling the village on the weekends.

The remainder of the hours is monitored either by the chief or by the sheriff’s department, as needs arise.

Come later this year, the 36-member patrol division of the sheriff’s department will take over law enforcement duties. The sheriff’s department — with an operating budget of $3.9 million — operates three, 11-officer patrol shifts daily.

It became simply a matter of dollars and cents. Stump said the village could have continued spending the $120,000 or contract with the sheriff’s department and spend some $75,000 to $85,000 annually.

The Kankakee County Board, which is the governing body for the sheriff’s department, must approve this intergovernmental agreement as well.

The contract states the county will charge a $55-per-hour rate for patrol.

This type of arrangement is not new to the sheriff’s department. It has existing contracts with Bonfield, Buckingham, Chebanse and Tri-Star Estates in Bourbonnais as well.

Stump said the savings can be used for other village services.

Sheriff Mike Downey said these types of contracts are becoming more common across the country as cash-strapped smaller municipalities are experiencing growing difficulties meeting the costs associated with operating a police department.

Like Stump, Downey said growing state regulations are making policing extremely difficult for smaller communities to maintain their own departments.

“These smaller departments just can’t keep up. There is simply too much liability to keep them going,” the sheriff said.

While Stump said trustees have been talking about this issue for several years, it just became too much. He added a 10-year revenue source associated with Aqua Illinois’ purchase of the village’s water system has forced the village to take an even closer look at its expenses.

Downey said his department will make the necessary adjustments so there is a police presence in Aroma Park. He noted a department official would also attend village board meetings to hear from residents and board officials.

“I’ve always said sharing resources, combining resources is good for the taxpayers,” Downey said. “This was strictly a municipality decision. We will continue to keep Aroma Park a safe community.”


Local
Board rejects vaccination policy for health department employees

Clarification: The story states that for every 100 people tested for COVID-19 infection, nearly 6 are currently considered positive for being infected.

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Health Department will not require its employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination as a term of employment.

The move to mandate that the 35-employee and a 10-member contracted contact tracing workforce to receive the vaccination by Nov. 4 — the drop-dead date established by the department’s administration as part of a proposed mandate — was unanimously rejected by the board at its Thursday meeting.

The vote denying the measure was 6-0. Among the board members voting against the measure were three doctors and a nurse practitioner.

Voting against the recommended policy were board president Dr. Simon Wu, Dr. Jeff Long, Dr. Abraham Kurien and nurse practitioner Neelie Panozzo. Also voting against the measure were businessman Jim Johanek and Antonio Carrico, who is a natural health specialist with Carrico Therapy Center in Bradley as well as a Kankakee County Board member.

Health department administrator John Bevis presented a three-page staff vaccination policy that set forth the proposed rules and procedures.

From the outset of the presentation, it appeared Kankakee County Board of Health members were not leaning toward the document’s adoption. Board members almost instantly began questioning Bevis about the policy’s language as well as its ability to be enforced.

Prior to the presentation, some staff members spoke against the policy. Tammy Ponton, a health department nurse, noted that of the 13-person nursing staff, six have not been vaccinated and were not going to be vaccinated.

WORKER LOYALTY

Diane Cinnamon, a 22-year health department nurse, said the policy could seriously damage the department’s ability to function. “These are loyal people, but we [the health department] are not being loyal to them.”

Bevis was asked how many of the health department staff have been fully vaccinated. He declined to specifically state the number. He noted those who are not vaccinated are tested weekly.

Panozzo questioned why the entire staff is not tested as it is known that even people who have been vaccinated can still become infected with the virus.

Bevis simply stated the department did not feel that was necessary.

As of Thursday, some 44,894 Kankakee County residents, or 40 percent of the population, have been vaccinated. Bevis noted in the state’s Region 7 COVID district, of which Kankakee and Will counties form, the positivity rate is 5.6 percent.

That figure means for every 100 people tested, nearly 6 are currently considered positive for being infected.

Bevis noted that while Will County’s population is nearly six times the size of Kankakee’s, one of every four positive tests is coming from Kankakee County. He noted Kankakee’s positivity rate is near 9 percent.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, there have been 248 deaths in Kankakee County associated with COVID-19.

1ST SUSPENSION, THEN FIRING

Under the proposed health department policy, unvaccinated staff would have had until Nov. 4 to submit proof of vaccination or a completed exemption form. If the staff member did not have either of those documents by that date, they would be immediately suspended without pay.

Suspended staff, as a condition of continued employment, would then be given until Nov. 15 to become fully compliant with the policy. Staff determined to be not in compliance by Nov. 16, would have been fired.

Board members questioned the need for the policy based on the fact that the department was functioning well. Bevis said as a healthcare leader, he felt it was important for the department to set an example.

Riverside Healthcare and AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital — who between them employ more than 4,000 area residents — recently established policies similar to this. The hospital policies state staff who are not vaccinated nor have an approved exemption by a certain date will be subject to an unpaid suspension and ultimately will lose their job.

Dr. Long noted he has growing concerns that if the hospitals lose staff due to the vaccination and the health department would lose staff, the community would be facing a medical crisis.

“We have to make sure the health department keeps going,” he said.

Bevis retorted the department also has to be considerate of the public it serves, as well as those who come into its building, so that they are not in danger of being infected by staff.

Staff members are required to wear face coverings when they are away from their desk.

The board asked Bevis how he developed the policy. He said he patterned it after policies put in place by two health departments. He said assistant state’s attorney John Coghlan, of the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s office, reviewed the document.

Because the health department has fewer than 100 employees, board members stated the organization does not fall under the required full vaccination against COVID or proof of negative tests mandate.

After the meeting, Bevis said he was not disappointed by the board’s action.

“I think it’s important for us to set a good example. Our mission is to protect all people,” he said. “... The board of health is my boss. I respect their opinion. At least I have an answer.”


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