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Courts face $3.8 million budget cut for '06

Monday, December 19, 2005
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Stephanie Potter

Offices under the control of Chief Cook County Judge Timothy C. Evans would sustain a budget cut of $3.8 million in 2006 under a proposal issued Monday by Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr.

Evans had submitted a draft budget containing a slight reduction from the 2005 appropriation for the offices he controls, which include the judiciary as well as adult and juvenile probation and the public guardian's office.

Evans requested a 2006 budget of $169.4 million, and Stroger recommended $166.5 million; Evans' 2005 budget is $170.3 million.

Stroger is recommending that offices under Evans' control be cut by 92.4 positions from this year's 2,943. The recommended cuts would come primarily in the probation departments and the judiciary.

Stroger unveiled his $3.1 billion proposed budget for 2006 at a special board meeting Monday morning, saying that it would likely anger department heads, but is fiscally responsible.

The budget leaves a $75 million funding shortfall, a gap that Stroger wants to fill with a $1 increase in the cigarette tax.

The shortfall, he said, was largely due to an expected $70 million reduction in medicaid reimbursements. Stroger said he was able to cut that figure to $50 million after a conversation late last week with Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich in which the governor voiced a commitment to adjust the state's payment schedule for intergovernment transfers.

''I am pleased of the fact that this budget limits growth to 1 percent over last year,'' Stroger said, ''well below the rate of inflation. I also appreciate that no one likes taxes, but the reality is that we have cut expenses to the bone and, without some new resources, we will be faced with service cuts, something I cannot support.''

In his budget address, Stroger cited increasing costs for health care and supporting the county's jail and court system as challenges facing the board.

He said the county has implemented some programs to cut the jail population, including a credit card bail program, which is now being expanded to suburban police departments. He pushed state legislation under which the state is to pay half the cost of housing parole violators. Stroger said he hopes to see the funding for that in the state's 2007 budget.

Stroger said efforts to cut the jail population through alternative programs, including a day reporting center, have resulted in a reduction in the jail population on Thursday to 8,968, the lowest in recent memory.

He also citing the opening of the county's new domestic violence courthouse as an accomplishment in 2005.

Stroger initially projected a $307 million budget deficit. He said that, in order to reduce the deficit, he told his finance team to make cuts wherever possible.

''Make no mistake about it, these cuts will likely anger department heads and elected officials alike,'' Stroger said. ''They will see very different numbers today than they submitted months ago.''

Stroger, board president since 1994, is currently seeking reelection to the post.

Under Stroger's proposal, State's Attorney Richard A. Devine would see a $2.9 million budget cut from the 2005 appropriation of $99.1 million.

The office requested 1,494 positions, but Stroger recommended 1,492, which would be a reduction of eight positions from 2005.

In contrast, Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown's office would get a boost in funds under the proposal. Brown's budget would be set at $103.4 million, up $7.1 million from 2005. Brown requested 2,105 positions, while Stroger is calling for 2,099, up 31 from this year.

Under the proposal, the public defender's office would see its budget increase slightly from the 2005 appropriation, going from $48.7 million to $50.1 million. The number of full-time positions would be set at 760, the same number requested by Public Defender Edwin A. Burnette. The office had 10 fewer positions in the current fiscal year.



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