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Assessor Berrios lays off 53 as part of county budget cuts

Friday, January 28, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios today began laying off 53 workers to comply with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s request to slash his annual operating costs by 16 percent this year.

Of the laid-off employees, 48 were members of unions who received 30-day notices, as required under their contract, said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Berrios.  The other five held jobs that don’t have those protections and had to leave today, she said.

“President Preckwinkle asked us to cut 16 percent from our budget, and that’s what we are doing,” Quinn said. “It was very, very painful to have to do that.”

Preckwinkle has asked all county offices to cut costs by 16 percent this year to help close a budget shortfall that her new administration pegged at $487 million. Other steps to close that hole will include debt refinancing, court fee increases and consolidation of departments, she said.

Preckwinkle herself is laying off 418 employees in the offices she controls, a move she also called “painful.”

That pain could extend into coming years, as she has promised to eliminate within two years the remaining half of the penny-on-the-dollar sales-tax increase enacted under her predecessor, Todd Stroger.

Berrios also is leaving 30 jobs vacant, buying fewer office supplies and cutting printing and postage costs through greater use of the Web, Quinn said.

“How this is going to impact the public remains to be seen,” she said. “Could that mean the new tax bills may be late? Yes. Does this mean there could be longer lines at the assessor’s office? Yes.”

Berrios himself came under fire when he took office last month and hired his sister, son and a close political operative. Those three remain on the payroll.

Meanwhile, Sally Daly, spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, said her boss is not thrilled about the 10 percent cut in spending that will occur in her office.

Alvarez negotiated the cuts down from 16 percent to make them less painful before “the president’s office imposed the 10 percent reduction,” Daly said.

“There’s no way for us to avoid significant layoffs of personnel, and that will include prosecutors,” Daly said. “It’s going to have an impact on our services.”

Preckwinkle on Tuesday will introduce her $3.1 billion budget proposal, the start of what could be a month-long debate on the final budget to be approved by the 17-member board.

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