County leaders say proposed cuts could hurt public safety
Thursday, December 30, 2010
by Lisa Donovan
As a budget crisis looms, Cook County law
enforcement and court officials say proposed budget cuts will put the
brakes on the wheels of justice.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and
Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown have sent separate protest letters to
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has proposed annual
cuts of 16 percent to all county offices.
And Sheriff Tom Dart’s office has raised questions
about whether he can make the cuts and still abide by staffing mandates
set by court order.
But Preckwinkle, working to craft a $3 billion-plus
spending plan for 2011, has asked her fellow elected leaders to make
the cuts in order to close a projected $487 million shortfall.
In her Dec. 23 letter, Brown says cutting that
deeply into her $175 million budget would slow services. Her office
maintains and processes files for court proceedings, from criminal cases
“A budget reduction at that level would have a
considerably detrimental impact on court services,’’ Brown wrote. “A cut
of this magnitude would require a reduction of almost a fourth of the
staff. Reducing a fourth of the staff while knowing that we are already
understaffed would not represent good business and management sense for
me as an elected official.’’
Her note also suggested raising court fees and
collecting juvenile court fees — something she says is allowed by state
law but is currently “not being assessed by the judiciary’’ — from
parents and guardians of kids in trouble with the law. Her office
projects that expanding, hiking and enforcing collection of fees could
generate between $21 million and $33 million annually.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez sent a similar letter, although she declined to release it to the public.
The proposed cuts “would have a significant impact
on public safety,’’ Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly said in an interview.
“It’s going to result in a drastic cutback of prosecutors, and it would
dramatically affect our ability to efficiently prosecute criminal cases
and handle civil cases for the county.”
Daly explained that 95 percent of the state’s
attorney’s $149 million budget is for personnel costs, which is mainly
She later said the office was “reviewing operations
from top to bottom to assess where cutbacks could be made or cost
savings achieved without compromising’’ public safety. She said pay cuts
could be an option.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has also said such deep cuts might impact public safety.
“We’re under a court order to add hundreds of new
positions at our jail, which has been understaffed for years,’’
sheriff’s spokesman Steve Patterson said.
Patterson said his office is looking for some
cost-savings. The sheriff has long backed the idea of taking over the
duties of the Forest Preserve police. And Dart is considering closing
court buildings on evenings and weekends at times when they aren’t open
to the public.
In a prepared statement, Preckwinkle said budget discussions are ongoing.
“I remain firm that no will be absolved and no one
will be alone. Collaboration isn’t an option, it’s a necessity if we are
to meet this challenge before us,” she said.
“ . . . Admittedly, we’re making tough choices,
but these adjustments must be made as part of a team effort and they
must be made now if we are to sustain county services over the
Other county officials have supported the cuts,
including Assessor Joe Berrios, Health and Hospitals CEO William Foley,
Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore, Cook County Commissioner John Daley and
members of the county’s tax appeals board.
Preckwinkle is expected to deliver her budget
recommendation to county commissioners by the end of January. They must
approve the final spending plan.