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Prosecutor's video needs met by board

Friday, February 10, 2006
Daily Law BUlletin
by Stephanie Potter

The Cook County Board on Thursday gave the state's attorney's office an additional $1.46 million in its 2006 budget, primarily to cope with increased expenses related to videotaped interrogations in homicide cases. The funding came as the board approved the county's $3.1 billion 2006 budget during a daylong meeting. The challenges facing the state's attorney's office, which sought additional funding for personnel and supplies, were indicative of those facing several court-related offices in a year in which budget cuts were widespread. State's Attorney Richard A. Devine was particularly worried about a state law that went into effect in July requiring police to videotape all interrogations in homicide cases. In a written budget address to the board's Finance Committee, Devine said he supported the idea behind the law, but believed it had become an unfunded mandate. Devine had requested an additional $2 million for his office to meet the demands of the videotaping, which include personnel costs for prosecutors who must view the entire interrogation as well as the cost of equipment to edit and view the recordings. The resolution relating to videotaping gave Devine's office $1.1 million more for personnel, to fund the videotaping efforts and also to boost entry level salaries for prosecutors. Devine had said attracting qualified prosecutors would become harder as surrounding counties boosted their beginning pay. The budget amendment also bumped Devine's training budget from $20,000 to $70,000. Training had been a concern in light of new Illinois Supreme Court rules mandating minimum continuing legal education. The board also agreed to give Devine's office $400,000 for supplies, equal to last year's amount. Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. had recommended a quarter of that amount in his proposed budget, which Devine said would have caused the office to run out of basic supplies soon after the budget was passed. Overall, Stroger had proposed a $94.8 million general fund budget for Devine's office, which was down $800,000 from 2005. The $1.46 million added to Devine's budget will come from funds available in the county's personnel lines due to occasional vacancies, said Commissioner Lawrence J. Suffredin Jr., an Evanston Democrat and one of the sponsors of the budget amendment. Devine plans to shift funds in his capital equipment budget to purchase equipment to process the recorded interviews, according to a Devine spokeswoman. Much of the debate at Thursday's meeting centered around a $1 increase in the county's cigarette tax and a proposal to bump up revenue projections in the treasurer's and circuit court clerk's offices to finance the hiring of 250 new correctional workers. Both measures passed. But they prompted Commissioner Michael B. Quigley, a Chicago Democrat and an opponent of both, to quip, ''I guess this will be forever known as the smoke and mirrors budget.'' Supporters said the cigarette tax increase will fill a $70 million gap in the budget due to cuts in Medicaid reimbursements. As for the revenue projections, the board voted to increase projected fee revenue in the treasurer's office by $5 million and by $3 million in the clerk's office. Proponents argued the higher projections were accurate based on historic data. But the $8 million in additional revenue also allowed the county to take action on the correctional officer hiring. Commissioners have been under pressure from U.S. District Judge George M. Marovich to add 250 positions at the jail under a consent decree entered in a federal lawsuit over jail conditions. Offices under Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans were cut by $3.8 million in the new budget. Evans said a budget amendment shifted funds to where they are most needed, and he plans to do the best job possible with the funding he has. Although no new funds were included for courtroom security, Evans said he plans to continue to urge the sheriff's office to provide more security within the budget allocated. Evans emphasized the need for a deputy in every courtroom when he went before the Finance Committee, telling commissioners that 40 percent of the courtrooms in the Daley Center have no deputy assigned to them. ''We will move forward and we will provide justice for the citizens of this county within the budget that we have,'' Evans said. Public Defender Edwin A. Burnette's 2006 budget was set at $52.8 million, a slight increase from last year. Burnette's office received $100,000 for training, down from $160,000 last year. Burnette had requested $878,000 for computer equipment, which Burnette said is needed in order to move cases through the system faster. But no new funding was included for computers in the 2006 budget. John Gibson, a Stroger spokesman, said the office has $328,000 in carryover funds it can spend on computers. The budget office's policy is that funding must be spent before new funds are allocated, Gibson said. In the circuit clerk's office, the general fund budget is down $1.2 million in 2006, to $83.2 million. Overall, the office's budget is up by $7.1 million, but that is due to an increase in fees for automation and document storage that went into effect in January.

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