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Sheriff target of new cuts
Stroger budget would ax more jobs; Dart vows fight

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Freelance reporter Carmen Greco Jr. contributed to this report

More than 200 Cook County courtroom deputies and 100 sheriff's police officers would be among those who would have their jobs eliminated under a new round of 2007 budget cuts outlined Tuesday by County Board President Todd Stroger.

Sheriff Tom Dart reacted angrily to Stroger's proposal, which also had more specifics about recommended health-care cuts, including transferring 150 long-term patients from Oak Forest Hospital to private facilities.
Stroger unveiled the details Tuesday as amendments to his proposed $3 billion budget, which he released last week without identifying how he would make about $107 million in bulk spending cuts.

Stroger has vowed to close a projected $500 million deficit without raising taxes. The new recommendations come as the County Board has started holding departmental and public hearings on the budget. The board is expected to vote on it next month.

Organized labor, clergy and community organizations have begun to mobilize to stop various cuts that Stroger has proposed.

Though Stroger said Tuesday that he is confident he has the board support to get his budget approved, a few commissioners have hinted at the possibility of raising property taxes.

Stroger said Tuesday he remained committed to forcing the county government to return to its core mission while eliminating extra programs that have been added.

Stroger said the sheriff's police department would be cut because it has more officers patrolling fewer people as suburbs annex unincorporated areas.

"We have never cut the sheriff's police as the land mass that they have to cover has shrunk," Stroger said.

At his own news conference, Dart said it was "unconscionable" to eliminate 477 sheriff's positions on top of other staff cuts and the elimination of jail alternative programs proposed last week.

"People are constantly bringing up this fallacy about how, `Well, your area has shrunk so you don't need as many police officers.' That is the argument and logic of a fool. Absolute fool," Dart said.

Dart said that while suburbs may annex some property, they typically only take a portion, leaving the sheriff's police to cover the remainder.

Dart is scheduled to appear before the Finance Committee on Feb. 2.

"There's no way I'm going along with this," Dart said.

Stroger's emphasis on efficiency also extended to the county's health system.

Doctors in the clinics will be expected to see more patients and maximize their time instead of doing other activities such as research or teaching, said Dr. Robert Simon, the health bureau's interim chief.

Simon said the county's health system of three hospitals and 10 clinics would be operating at full capacity, leaving it with no room to expand services in a crisis such as a flu epidemic or terrorist attack.

"This is a budget that neither the president nor I feel is appropriate," Simon said. "It's not like I want to do this. It is preserving core services the best I can with the extraordinary limited budget that I have."

Simon said they will lobby the state for more revenue.

"The bottom line is the money that is budgeted is not enough," he said.

Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), a Stroger critic, said Stroger's latest budget cuts show he is sacrificing frontline workers while leaving high-paid bureaucrats and patronage workers unscathed.

"Todd Stroger is loading up the payroll, giving six-figure jobs to relatives and politicians, but he's taking a meat ax to the frontline ranks of law enforcement and health-care workers," Claypool said.

Meanwhile, hundreds showed up Tuesday night at the Markham courthouse for the first of four public hearings.

Glenn Wise, 46, a quadraplegic who said he has been treated at Oak Forest Hospital for 18 years, said he feared budget cuts would curtail care there.

"Putting us out on the streets is not going to solve the county budget problem," Wise said.

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