Waukegan to cut police officers, firefighters

March 22, 2011 4:55:47 PM PDT
Money problems could force officials in suburban Waukegan to put dozens of jobs on the chopping block.

More than 80 positions are on the line, including police officers and firefighters.

The north suburb is facing a projected $8.7 million deficit, and officials say the proposed job cuts would save $5 million.

But union leaders say those cuts would come at a different kind of cost.

Waukegan fire and rescue personnel said Tuesday that they pride themselves on their quick response to emergencies. but if the city moves forward with proposed cuts to their department, it could be a challenge.

"Not only does it affect our safety, but ultimately, it affects the safety of the citizens of Waukegan," said Brad Buntrock, the president of Firemans Local 473.

The Waukegan City Council is considering a proposed budget that would cut 15 positions in the fire department, including 10 firefighters.

The police department would also be hit hard, losing 22 positions including 15 patrol officers.

According to the police union president, that's in addition to 27 positions they've lost over the last five years to attrition.

The department has also reduced training, and they've bought no new squad cars for the last several years.

Police and fire jobs make up the majority of the proposed cuts, which total 88 positions, saving the city more than $5 million.

Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian says the budget proposal is far from final.

Sabonjian issued a statement saying: "Given the current financial resources that we have forecast for the coming year, we are hopeful that we can work with the aldermen, the labor unions and the citizens of our community to find solutions to this shortfall in our proposed budget."

Union leaders say the city's budget shortfall seems to be an annual problem.

"The city's going to have to figure this budget mess out. This is the third year in a row, and we're kind of wondering when it's gonna end," Buntrock said.

Both police and fire union leaders say they plan on meeting with city officials in hopes of working out some concessions that might save jobs.

The firefighters union contract ended last month, and the police have a no-layoff clause that expires at the end of April.

So the proposed city cuts would take effect on May 1.