On Friday afternoon, Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued a press release announcing 300 layoff notices were issued “to address an approximately $68 million gap in our FY2017 that is directly related to the Illinois Retail Merchants Association’s (IRMA) lawsuit and Temporary Restraining Order that prohibits us from collecting the Sweetened Beverage Tax… Along with the layoffs, we are closing more than 600 vacant positions.” There is likely more pain to come: these layoffs cover the FY2017 gap, but not FY2018, which is projected to be $287.5 million.
The administration has denied repeated requests for department-specific breakdowns of requested budget reductions, or layoffs in Offices Under the President, citing ongoing talks and the impact of collective bargaining agreements. But crucial public safety departments–the Public Defender and State’s Attorney–told The Daily Line they’re laying off roughly 100 employees. Sheriff Tom Dart’s office was asked to reduce its budget by $21.4 million–the equivalent of 925 positions–to meet its target by the end of FY 2017, but has not reached final numbers yet.
Budget Director Tanya Anthony sent notice to bureau chiefs, department heads, and separately elected officials last week calling for a 10% holdback effective August 1 to cover the remainder of the fiscal year. Department heads could meet those targets with layoffs, vacancy eliminations or other spending reductions, including on capital equipment, planned projects, or contracts.
Cara Smith, a spokesperson for Sheriff Tom Dart, said the Sheriff’s Department–one of the county’s biggest–will “be coming to a conclusion with our plan early next week.” She said President Preckwinkle’s budget office asked for a $21.4 million reduction in the budget for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year, equal to 925 employees. That’s 15.4% of the workforce, Smith said, and would likely impact guards at the County jail the most. “We’re in a painstaking, thoughtful process of evaluating our budget and operations to see where savings will be realized,” she said. “It’s a very heavy, heavy assignment.”
Earlier this week, Sheriff Dart joined Commissioners Richard Boykin (D-1), Tim Schneider (R-14), and Jeff Tobolski (D-16) to blast the proposed cuts, which they said would have the biggest impact on public safety operations. “County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s solution to her inability to collect her sweetened beverage tax is to take a hatchet to the county’s public safety departments,” Boykin said in a statement. “That is the height of irresponsibility” that could lead to the Sheriff’s Department re-entering federal oversight. “With these layoffs, it is only a matter of time until the federal government again intervenes and again forces the county to boost the numbers of officers in the jail. Where will these supposed savings come from then?”
The State’s Attorney’s office is laying off 39 people. A spokesperson said the office was able to hit its $4 million reduction target by making non-personnel cuts, implementing two mandatory unpaid furlough days for non-union staff, and laying off 17 prosecutors and 22 staffers. The office had a budgeted total of 1,168 employees for this year.
There were no layoffs in commissioners’ offices, nor at the Cook County Assessor’s Office. Assessor spokesperson Tom Shaer said the office was able to “find savings elsewhere in our budget and avoid layoffs at this time… We hit the total dollar figure we were asked to reach,” but said he could not share that figure.
Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough’s office also avoided layoffs, but has significantly reduced its headcount in recent years. “When I came in it was 200 people, now we’re down to about 130,” she said.
This round, “we gave up a couple of vacancies. It was over $200,000 from other stuff. They asked for 8% last year, and we gave it to them,” Yarbrough told The Daily Line. “The rest of these folks didn’t do anything,” she said, referring to other offices. “[Finance Chairman John] Daley had commented on it, that were one of the only separately elected officials to do that. Last year we gave up 15 people from layoffs.”
Fewer than 100 employees were given layoff notices at the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, spokesperson Alex Normington said. “We have complied with the requested 10% reduction through a number of expense reduction strategies designed to minimize service disruption including deferring planned projects and reducing vendor contracts. This has enabled us to keep staff reductions to fewer than 100.” Normington did not respond to a request to break down how the cuts affected nurses, technicians, doctors, or administrative staff.
Lester Finkle in the Public Defender’s Office said there were 69 total layoffs in the office. Of those, 63 are attorneys. That’s a 15% cut in attorney staff, he estimated. “The situation is evolving,” he said, noting the Budget Office asked for $2.5 million in cuts. “The [layoff] notices went out for 30 days from today. We’ll do everything we can to find other resources to prevent those layoffs from occurring.” Union members in the public defender’s office warned in a budget hearing Wednesday that the cuts would lead to unsustainable caseloads for attorneys and a potential for the county to become the next “center of national scandal [for] miscarriage of justice,” akin to New Orleans or Missouri.
Officials with County Clerk David Orr’s office, Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown’s office, and Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ Office could not be reached by publication. Pres. Preckwinkle’s statement said she would continue to work with the Chief Judge and Sheriff Dart “to ensure real expenditure reductions in their budgets,” and more layoffs are likely coming.
“I regret that these actions are necessary – and I deeply regret the impact they have on individual employees,” Pres. Preckwinkle said in a statement. “One of the main reasons I proposed the modest tax on sweetened beverages last year was specifically to avoid these kind of cuts.”
“The FY2017 budget, which was passed by the Board last November in a 13-4 vote, included that revenue. Unfortunately, the lawsuit filed by the IRMA and others just days before the tax was to take effect has led to what is likely to be a protracted legal fight. And while we believe we will ultimately prevail, we must take fiscally responsible actions now.”