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Preckwinkle warns of budget cuts

Friday, November 19, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President-elect Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday warned top county officials that they will need to make major spending cuts next year to help the county close a vast budget gap.

The estimated revenue shortfall tops $480 million because of the partial rollback of the controversial county sales-tax increase, the anticipated costs of new contracts for employees, and higher debt payments, she said. This week's $55.3 million settlement of a lawsuit related to jail strip searches also contributed, she added.

Preckwinkle said she had a lunch meeting with Sheriff Tom Dart, Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown and other countywide elected officials "to talk about how desperate our situation is and how we need their help and support."

The meeting was "somber," said Cook County Clerk David Orr. "Making these types of additional cuts is going to be painful."

Steve Patterson, Dart's spokesman, noted the sheriff is under court order to provide certain levels of staffing at the county's massive jail, but said Dart would work with Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle, who takes office early next month, said she doesn't expect to have a budget in place much before the deadline of Feb. 28 already three months into the fiscal year.

She has promised to eventually eliminate what remains of the sales-tax increase approved by the board at current President Todd Stroger's urging. Stroger, who lost to Preckwinkle in the Democratic primary, was criticized for not cutting enough fat from the county budget.

Preckwinkle said she's focused on cuts and efficiencies. "Other governments across the country have done this; it's not impossible," she said.

She pledged to consolidate departments under her control and cut "unnecessary positions," citing instances where supervisors oversee just one or two employees. She also said combining purchasing and other county functions could save more than $150 million.

"We're going to be talking to the labor unions about the contribution that they can make to helping us deal with the terrible problems we've got," she added.

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