County Board passes balanced budget after 19 hours
Saturday, February 26, 2011
by Lisa Donovan
After a marathon meeting lasting until the wee
hours Saturday morning, Cook County commissioners unanimously approved a
job-saving, cost-cutting $3.1 billion budget — balanced in part by
handing government workers 10 days off without pay this year.
Five of those days are part of a government
shutdown that will be spread throughout the year. While “vital” county
operations, from the sheriff’s patrol, the jail, some courts and the
county’s hospitals would remain open. County offices will be closed to
residents wanting to appeal their property tax bills or get a marriage
license on those days — to be scheduled around holidays when county
business is slower.
“It’s five days out of the year, so I think it will
be a pretty modest impact,” on those doing business with Cook County
government, Board President Toni Preckwinkle told reporters after
commissioners signed off on the budget plan just before dawn Saturday.
The approved spending plan plugs a $487 million
budget hole. It largely kept intact the budget proposal Preckwinkle
introduced earlier this month calling for refinancing the county’s debt
and aggressively going after tax scofflaws.
With county government facing a Monday deadline to
approve a balanced budget, Preckwinkle and her staff worked until the
11th hour with labor unions to reach a deal on unpaid time off for union
and non-union employees alike, as some 1,300 employees were facing
In the end, the 10 unpaid days off spared 550 jobs
and saved $32 million, said Preckwinkle’s Chief of Staff Kurt Summers.
Negotiations will continue with the American Federation of State County
and Municipal Employees, which represents 400 employees slated for
“This puts the trades back to work,” said West suburban Democrat Jeff Tobolski, who co-sponsored the furlough measure.
He and the other 16 commissioners cast a final vote
supporting the budget package at 4:25 a.m. Saturday, more than 19 hours
after the budget meeting started, breaking multiple times in between
for union and other negotiations.
Passing the budget marks the second big win in as
many days for Preckwinkle, who won enough votes to pass an ordinance
Friday repealing by 2013 the remainder of the penny-on-the-dollar sales
tax hike that cost her predecessor, Todd Stroger, his job.