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Preckwinkle, some commissioners say enough votes for amended budget

Friday, November 17, 2017
Chicago Sun-Times
by Rachel Hinton

Cook County commissioners and Board President Toni Preckwinkle have supplied a bipartisan patch to the $200 million hole in the budget.

And although, a vote isn’t schedule until Tuesday, many believe the amended budget – that includes 425 layoffs and an additional 762 vacancy eliminations – has enough support for it to pass. The six budgetary amendments range from adjusting current revenue projections to adjusting capital funding source for capital equipment purchases.

Most of the layoffs are middle management positions in the sheriff’s office and the chief judge’s office, although almost all offices will face reductions.

Commissioner Richard Boykin, D-Oak Park, said that he expects a unanimous vote in favor of the budget. He called the amended budget a “victory for taxpayers.”

“This has all of the ingredients of a workable approach to what could have been a crisis,” Boykin said. “It preserves our public health and safety sectors and rightsizes our government. I’m glad we could do it without raising taxes.”

After repealing the penny-an-ounce sweetened beverage tax last month, Preckwinkle left closing the budget gap to commissioners.

After weeks of department presentations, Preckwinkle presented her own fix — initially eliminating 746 vacancies and cutting $32 million by improving the county’s span of control among other things.

On Friday, she “applaud the commissioners for their collaboration on the amendment, as well as the separately elected officials, county staff and the public for their input, and look forward to passage of our budget Tuesday.”

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said he would expect more modifications to be made to the budget between now and Tuesday’s vote.

Though he called the amended budget a step in the right direction, Suffredin, who has voted “no” to two of the last three budgets, said that his focus would be on trying to make sure services provided by the sheriff’s office and the chief judge’s office could remain in tact.

“When you have a budget this big it’s a jigsaw puzzle, and with a $200 million hole it’s a difficult one,” Suffredin said. “We need to make sure it’s fully functional. If we take away mid-level supervisors it could cost us more down the road.”

Suffredin, who also voted no to repealing the beverage tax, said that the budget still needed to be refined and discussed before the Tuesday vote.

Commissioner Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park, said he was “glad” that Preckwinkle’s office stepped in to help reduce the budget.

“We were able to close this gap despite the refrain that we couldn’t do it,” Morrison said. “Through cuts and rightsizing, we’re making 2018 a new era for our government.”

That new era will include continued scrutiny to how the county spends its money.

Boykin and Morrison both said more could have been cut from the budget, especially from the county’s health system.

Morrison said branch courts and combining human resources and procurement offices were areas he and his colleagues may keep in mind going forward.

Boykin said taxpayers can expect ordinances to be introduced in December and January addressing the county’s litigation, overtime and procurement processes in an attempt to create “structural reforms.”

Boykin added that the amendments are a short-term fix and that, without continued contracting, it may lead to more budget fights in the future.

Morrison would agree.

“If we start instituting procedural changes, it will help us continue to decrease our operating costs,” Morrison said. “We rolled up our sleeves and said ‘enough was enough.’ We need to continue to do that, and continue looking for inefficiencies.”



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