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Preckwinkle, Dart make peace on budget

Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart stood together Tuesday morning to announce their budget stalemate is over.

Preckwinkle backed down from her demand that Dart slice 16 percent — or $73 million — from his budget. They agreed to a cut of roughly 12 percent, or $53 million.

“This past weekend, my staff and I worked with sheriff Tom Dart and his staff on a compromise that would reduce his budget significantly and allow him the flexibility he needs to run the county jails in accord with federal mandates and protect our residents,” Preckwinkle said. “I’m pleased with the outcome of these talks.”

Dart said the cuts still will be “painful” and that he anticipates having to make about 100 layoffs, as well as having to take on some new responsibilities that will allow the sheriff’s office to get a cut of the judicial sales of foreclosed properties. Neither Dart nor Preckwinkle would talk about how they had reached what the standoff that’s now ended.

“There wasn’t one particular item that was a sticking point,” Dart said. “This has been a difficult process for everyone involved.”

Even before was elected in November, Preckwinkle said the county was facing a huge deficit, which she pegged at $487 million. She called for 16 percent cuts countywide, including the sheriff’s office.

On Tuesday, Preckwinkle’s chief of staff, Kurt Summers, said that as a result of the agreement reached with the sheriff, “We’ll have to squeeze tighter elsewhere.”

In recent weeks, Preckwinkle and Dart have traded barbs over the budget cuts. Two weeks ago, Dart suggested in apparent exasperation that Preckwinkle just cut his entire budget, and he could patrol the streets and guard the jail on his bicycle.

Clearly miffed about the comment, Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times’ editorial board on Friday, “The sheriff thinks the sky is falling. W don’t.”

Asked how the two mended fences, Preckwinkle responded, “We’re committed to working together and moving forward.”

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