FULTON, Ill. — The Fulton City Council faced scrutiny recently when it locked in an empty senior meals line item in its next fiscal year budget. However, recent a police presentation is explaining why that happened.

The council is expected to soon vote down funding of the senior meals program and then fund a nearly $40,000 shortfall for the acquisition of a K-9 unit.

A stop in city funding does not necessarily eliminate the meals program, Alderman Barb Mask has found supporters in the community and Kyle Huebner, who is the owner of the KT3 and the building that houses the program, agreed to continue hosting the meals. At the next meeting, Mask will present a private financials proposal.

"The meal program has been provided for many years with innumerable benefits to the attendees," Mask said. "The Fulton City Council has recently decided not to fund the program. The new owner, Kyle Huebner, offered continuing usage of the dining room/kitchen in the former Robert Fulton Community Center for two years at no rental cost. The kitchen equipment, donated by local citizens several years ago, was estimated to be at $14,000. Coupling these two functional opportunities present a strong incentive to fundraise for the overhead costs currently not covered by the meal donations. All donations are welcome."

For questions about donating or about the meal program, contact Mask at (563) 321-0218.

Mayor Mike Ottens, upon backlash from several community members, has heard public outcry about the meals program through petitions and letters. However, the city of Fulton is seeing more drug activity, and he believes additional resources must be given to the police department.

"It's just like running your home budget. There's more things to spend money on than you actually have money. So you have to make hard, tough choices," Ottens said in response to Irma Swanson, a community member fighting for the senior meals.

Some residents of Fulton, mainly those who utilize the program, spoke on its behalf. However, the council finds that the $8,952 that funds the meals program should go to public safety.

"These aren't either/or decisions, but when we have felons running through our community at night trying to out run our police, when our police officers are going, what's called, hands on to make an arrest," Ottens said. "Sooner or later, one of these things is going to go bad."

Fulton police can use Carroll County, Illinois and Clinton County police dogs, and have done so; however, there have also been times a K-9 unit wasn't available or did not make it to the scene on time. Officer Nicholas Neblung, who recently attended an lllinois Drug Enforcement Officers Association conference, said that state officials anticipate a "massive" uptick in heroin distribution and overdose. Chicago already has reported a 200 percent increase.

"We're fighting a losing battle right now," he said. "All the way across the board."

With a K-9 unit, among a vast amount of other tasks, the dog could aid in the capture of evidence — which may lead to more drug convictions.

Although Fulton officer Dwayne Hamilton at one time said fundraising would go toward the purchase of the dog, he's experiencing donor fatigue. They've raised about half of the $80,000 total price of the dog, but have come up short. The council, at the next meeting, is expected to approve the K-9 program funding.

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