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Sheriff blasts budget cuts
Stroger mandate hit; drug bust announced

Friday, January 05, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Josh Noel and Mickey Ciokajlo

As he announced that 180 people have been arrested in a Chicago Heights drug bust since September, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Thursday that such undertakings could be severely curbed if he is forced to slash his budget by a requested 17 percent.

The joint sting by local police and the sheriff's police netted 168 potential buyers and identified about 20 dealers, but that type of cooperative effort would be in jeopardy if the Sheriff's Office is forced to cut its budget, Dart said.
In December, County Board President Todd Stroger proposed that all county departments cut their budgets by 17 percent to close the county's $500 million shortfall. Stroger, who has pledged to eliminate the deficit without raising taxes, is expected to unveil his budget proposal the week of Jan. 15.

"It would be the height of irresponsibility at this time in history for us to be cutting our Police Department," Dart said. "It makes no sense."

Dart said he was scheduled to meet with Stroger on Friday.

A Stroger spokesman called Dart's comment "unfortunate."

"The president's message continues to be that he will not under any circumstances raise any Cook County taxes," Stroger spokesman Steve Mayberry said. "We are committed to working with the sheriff, but such inflammatory language benefits no one."

Meanwhile, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore said Thursday that his office has satisfied Stroger's directive.

Moore said he has reduced spending by 14 percent, or $1.8 million, by laying off 14 supervisors, eliminating 16 vacant employee positions and asking all workers to take 10 unpaid furlough days. He would also cut line items in the budget such as office supplies.

He said he would make up the 3 percent difference through new revenues such as selling additional documents, putting advertisements on his official county Web site or increasing fees for documents purchased on the Internet.

"There is no question that reaching this goal has been painful, very painful," Moore said. "But I consider it important as an independent elected official of Cook County to do what's necessary to protect our residents from a tax increase of any sort."

Stroger was satisfied with Moore's budget proposal, Mayberry said.

Also Thursday, State's Atty. Richard Devine hosted a meeting of county elected officials to discuss Stroger's budget-cut proposal. Devine has been a leading critic of the plan, saying it would force significant service cuts.

Dart said he could foresee cutting his budget by about 10 percent, in part by laying off staff, but not any of his 575 officers. A 17 percent reduction would be damaging because the department has been getting as many calls for service from suburban and unincorporated area as ever, he said. Also, the sheriff's police act as SWAT team, bomb unit and homicide investigators for many suburban departments.

"I'm very in tune with the fact that there is a budget crisis and there's things that need to be done," he said.

"Different agencies have different needs, different agencies have different issues, different agencies have been more efficient or less efficient than others. [Stroger's proposal] is not a surgical way to go about it. Some areas are more inefficient and those are the places you look for it."

At his side while announcing the drug bust, Chicago Heights Deputy Police Chief Michael Camilli echoed Dart's point. He said his agency of 87 officers would not have been able to carry out the bust alone because many drug dealers would have recognized the officers.

"If they are to cut 17 percent and they have to cut into the police officers, that would greatly affect our department and I would have to say the departments in the south suburbs," he said. "Most communities in the south suburbs don't have the force, the training or the people solely dedicated to the expertise of vice or drugs."

Dart, a former state legislator, said keeping his police department intact might even be worth a tax increase.

"I've never had any hesitancy [supporting] a proper tax increase that was targeted for a specific thing, never, ever," he said.

Also Thursday, Dart announced that he was naming William McHenry as chief of the sheriff's police. In a 28-year career, McHenry has supervised nearly every unit in the department, the sheriff's office said. John Palcu was named first deputy chief.

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