Preckwinkle sees huge Cook Co. budget cap

November 19, 2010 4:30:25 AM PST
The newly elected president of the Cook County Board says she will have to make steep cuts when she takes office.

Toni Preckwinkle says the county has a $487 million deficit in next year's budget.

Preckwinkle will take over for Todd Stroger next month. Thursday she talked about the challenges facing her administration.

The president-elect says she will cut her own salary by 10 percent, but the deficit is going to require all county departments to cut 21 percent from their budget for next fiscal year. That almost certainly means closing some facilities, and layoffs are on the way.

When she was elected by an overwhelming majority of Cook County voters earlier this month, Preckwinkle says, she already had a pretty good idea what she was getting into: A budget nightmare.

Her expectations came true Thursday. Preckwinkle says she met with other county elected officials in the afternoon to warn them they will need to cut about one-fifth of their budgets.

"We don't have any choice but to manage what we have. We have to present a balanced budget. That has to be approved by the county board of commissioners by the last day of February," Preckwinkle said.

Preckwinkle says she is expecting a budget shortfall for the next fiscal year of about $487 million. Of that, $264 million comes from lost revenue, much of that from the half-cent sales tax commissioners repealed over the summer.

She also expects about $223 million in higher expenses, much of that from union contracts which are still being negotiated, and also from the settlement of a lawsuit against the jail over strip searches. The county will have to pay about $45 million to settle that suit.

A spokesperson for current president Todd Stroger says his administration warned of dire budget circumstances if the board repealed the sales tax increase. Finance committee chairman John Daley agrees.

"When the sales tax was reduced, I did not hear from one elected official," Daley said.

The new president says she has already met with labor leaders to warn them that cuts are likely.

"I told them all before the election that this was gonna be an extraordinarily difficult year, and it should be no surprise," said Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle says her information is based on figures from Todd Stroger's administration, and her new chief-of-staff says that has been difficult.

"They have been slow to give us information early. The information has increased. We need more of it and we need it faster," said Kurt Summers, Preckwinkle's chief of staff.

Todd Stroger's office had no comment about allegations they are dragging their feet with the transition.

The fiscal year begins in early December, but Preckwinle says she expects it will take until the end of February to pass a budget, and there will be a lot of debate along the way.


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