County officials agree to slash budgets; layoffs and pay cuts expected
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
by Lisa Donovan
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, up
against a deadline to close an estimated $487 million gap in the 2011
budget, surrounded herself at a press conference Wednesday with county
officials who have agreed to slash their budgets.
Assessor Joe Berrios and Health and the CEO for the
county’s health and hospitals CEO William Foley, and other elected
leaders said they’ll be able to meet the 21 percent cut Preckwinkle
asked, and that could result in layoffs or pay cuts or both.
“The county is facing an enormous budget challenge,” Preckwinkle told reporters outside her office.
She praised Berrios, Foley, Recorder of Deeds
Eugene Moore, Cook County Commissioner John Daley, who heads the
powerful finance committee, and members of the Cook County’s tax appeals
board for pledging to meet the 21 percent cuts next year.
“They’re probably are going to be a lot of
layoffs,” Berrios said. The assessor’s office has a $22 million budget
and roughly 380 jobs - about 90 percent of them union.
The unions may be asked to consider concessions, including unpaid days off, to save some jobs.
The health and hospital system plans to meet the 21
percent goal and Foley said with the 300 to 400 layoffs--which will
come with the conversion of Oak Forest and Provident Hospitals to urgent
care centers--$83 million in cost savings will be realized. While the
health and hospital system is a $1.1 billion operation, spokesman Lucio
Guerrero explained that the county subsidy is roughly $400 million.
Some have raised concerns that the law enforcement
arm of the county, including the sheriff and state’s attorney’s office,
may be crippled by a 21 percent cut.
Cook County Public Defender Abishi Cunningham, who
wasn’t at the press conference, told the Sun-Times earlier this month
that the 21 percent cut means 130 lawyers on his 500-member staff could
lose their jobs - and slow the wheels of justice for the poor defendants
“It’s a ripple effect,” Cunningham said. “If we
lose lawyers, it’s going to slow down the process of enabling us to work
on cases, which means that inmates will spend longer times at the Cook
County Jail, which could be a problem for the county (jail) because the
sheriff’s office has entered a court-ordered consent decree to reduce
Cunningham said his office is looking at different
grants available to keep the office in business. Annually the office
handles 24,000 felony cases and another 230,000 misdemeanor cases.
Wednesday, Preckwinkle said she’s confident the 21 percent goal can be met, including the sheriff and state’s attorney’s office.
“They’re working with our staff and it’s my expectation that they will,” Preckwinkle said.
The clock is ticking on a Feb. 28th deadline to approve what is expected to a be a $3.5 billion spending plan in 2011.
Preckwinkle is expected to submit a spending plan
next month, giving county commissioners another month to review and vote
on a final budget.
While she can only request the 21 percent cuts, she
can’t order them. Still, state law requires a balanced budget and
Preckwinkle has continued to be the drum that “no one will be absolved”
in the budget cutting process.
So, she said, she’s starting with her own office.
While the budget is a work-in-progress, she is taking a 10 percent pay
cut, meaning her $160,000-a-year salary will fall to $144,000.
In addition, she’s called for a moratorium on
capital projects that aren’t essential, allowing for what she says is “a
review” of some 200 projects with a price tag of $900 million.