Preckwinkle talks budget, taxes on 1st day

December 7, 2010 4:44:10 AM PST
Toni Preckwinkle was sworn in Monday as the first woman elected president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Her first order of business included a promise to repeal her predecessor's sales tax increase and a warning that her first county budget will include some big cuts.

In order to repeal the sales tax increase, Preckwinkle is calling for a big, across-the-board cut in all county departments, including her own. Besides fiscal responsibility, Preckwinkle says she is committed to professionalizing the operation of the county.

Preckwinkle succeeds Todd Stroger, whose family has occupied a seat on the Cook County Board for 40 years. Forced to sit together during her oath of office, Stroger and Preckwinkle spoke little Monday.

"I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of president of the Board of Commissioners of Cook County to the best of my ability," Preckwinkle repeated.

After the oath, Preckwinkle got down to business and talked about the county's $478 million budget deficit.

"That challenge means each of us as county wide elected officials must find 21-percent in savings in our offices," Preckwinkle said.

Without shooting the idea down, some commissioners voiced concerns about such a big cut.

"Let us pray we say we can do without hurting too many folks," Jerry Butler, 3rd District, said.

"I hope we can do it fairly and not change services we provide," Joan Patricia, 6th District, said.

Promising the quality of services will not change with a 21-percent cut, Preckwinkle said that kind of savings will lay the ground work to repeal the remainder of the sales tax hike. The first female elected Cook County board president is proposing a reduction by a quarter percent in 2012 and 2013, but not next year.

"This first year with 487 million down, it didn't see prudent to further reduce revenues, but we have a year to plan," said Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle made the same appeal for fiscal responsibility at an afternoon ceremonial swearing in for her supporters. The former alderman says she is also determined to put accountability, transparency and respect back into Cook County government.

"I hope with this new board there's some civil-ness in this room because it has been lacking in the last four years," said Deborah Sims.

Preckwinkle also announced she would appoint a chief performance officer to oversee an audit of all employees working under the president. Consolidating departments is also on her list of cuts.

New people often come with a change of leadership and Preckwinkle says she is accepting the resignations of two dozen county employees who held executive jobs under Stroger.


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