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Preckwinkle, Dart stalled on Cook County budget cuts

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

As the deadline for cutting Cook County's budget nears, Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart seem to be locked in a standoff.

Dart said today that he has proposed cutting $43 million from this year’s budget by waiting to fill some jobs, not filling others at all and reducing overtime. He continues to look for other ways to save money, but doubts he can cut the full $103 million that Preckwinkle has requested.

Preckwinkle has asked all county officials to cut 16 percent from their budgets. Dart, State’s Atty. Anita Alvarez and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown each have questioned whether that can be done when the state and federal government requires certain services of them.

“Why not pick 100 percent?” Dart asked. “Can you cut your budget 100 percent, Tom? Yeah, you know, I’ll handle it all myself. I’ll get my bike out, I’ll do all the watching of the inmates, I’ll send them home on the weekends and I’ll handle all the patrol.”

Dart’s office employs 6,800 employees to run the jail, a police department that patrols unincorporated areas and provide courthouse security. Getting to the full 16 percent cut could mean laying off 1,800 employees, Dart stated in a letter to Preckwinkle last month.

“There is a breaking point where any fiscal manager will sit there and say, ‘Listen, we can no longer function anymore,’ ” Dart said today. “Are we there yet? Not quite there, we’re getting close.”

But Preckwinkle held fast, saying the pain of cuts has to be spread across all county offices. “This is going to be a shared sacrifice,” she said. “Shared means everybody.”

“We’re coming up against a deadline,” she added. “We have to have a budget for presentation at the meeting Feb. 1st, and I think six days to print it, and we’re kind of in the home stretch here.”

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