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County Board passes balanced budget after 19 hours

Saturday, February 26, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
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 layoffs.

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 layoff.

“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.

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