President Toni Preckwinkle presides over the final 2018 budget vote, Nov. 21, 2017. Credit: A.D. Quig, The Daily Line

 

Capping a year of conflict and tough votes on the instatement and repeal of the beverage tax, all 17 Cook County commissioners voted in favor of an amendment cutting the county’s budget by $200 million. Those cuts were mostly made by laying off 321 people and eliminating 1,017 positions.

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A somber President Toni Preckwinkle called the vote heartbreaking after hearing more than an hour of testimony from county employees who would soon lose their jobs. But several commissioners hailed the president, the board, and separately elected officials whose collaboration they say largely spare front line staff.

“The spirit of collaboration has been unprecedented and should continue throughout the new year,” Comm. Pete Silvestri (R-9), one of the board’s longest serving members, said. “I think services will be stretched, but they will continue to serve our public.”

Budget Director Tanya Anthony broke down the layoffs:

  • Assessor: 5
  • Board of Review: 8
  • Cook County Health and Hospitals System: 34
  • Chief Judge: 156
  • County Clerk: 3
  • Offices Under the President: 15
  • Sheriff: 100

The layoff number shrank from Friday’s estimate of 425, thanks to weekend wrangling and phone calls to commissioners’ offices from Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ and Sheriff Tom Dart’ staff. Both offices will still shoulder the bulk of layoffs and vacancy eliminations.  

Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown’s office was the only one that secured a deal with its labor union, the Teamsters, to institute furlough days rather than layoffs. There will be seven furlough days for union staff in 2018 and 15 for non-union staff.

In a statement late Tuesday, Evans said the Circuit Court “accounts for 7.6 percent of the overall county budget, but we are unfairly and disproportionately bearing 48 percent of the layoff total.”

He said the board should have provided funding and allowed his office decide staffing. Issuing a layoff list, he said, “creates an unprecedented level of uncertainty for how any independently elected official handles employment decisions in Cook County.”

He said his office is “considering legal options” and will have more information after the Thanksgiving holiday. Preckwinkle’s office declined to comment Tuesday.

Comm. Larry Suffredin (D-13), one of only two commissioners who stood by his vote to keep the beverage tax in October, appeared to serve as the nexus of staffing negotiations over the weekend. He made all of the motions on amendments in committee Tuesday.

In a statement on his website, he said he voted in favor “not because it has the thoughtful planning and coordination I wanted, but because it is the best and only alternative to protect Cook County from a meltdown of key services.”

“This amendment is different from Friday in that there has been a restoration of 22 people in the Chief Judge’s program who work for Office of the Public Guardian,” Suffredin said on the floor Tuesday. Also restored were 12 patrol officers in the sheriff’s police, 51 sergeants in court services, 17 civilians in the sheriff’s office, including in the Office of Professional Review, and two adult probation supervisors.

“Unfortunately this does not restore as many jobs as you’d want to at the (Juvenile Temporary Detention Center),” Suffredin said, nor full position restoration in adult probation, juvenile probation, or in social services. The Chief Judge will also cut its mortgage foreclosure program, he said. It puts the county “right at the edge of the standards we agreed to in federal court for the JTDC.”

“This is not a happy day,” he concluded, pointing out layoffs would hit around the holidays.

“People asked us to live within our means,” Finance Chairman John Daley (D-11) said. “To the elected officials, consider and take this board serious. I don’t think you took this board serious at all.”

He noted the board gave those officials two opportunities to propose their own cuts, and several fell short. Almost all said they did not support the beverage tax.

“To those being laid off I want to thank you for your years of service. We appreciate your hard work,” Daley said.

Dozens in green AFSCME shirts packed the room Tuesday to make their case during public testimony. Amy Carioscia, a juvenile probation employee, was one of them. She is a mother of two, and said her husband was laid off earlier this year.

She pleaded with the board before the vote. At one point, she started to cry. “I am one of the 46 people that will be laid off. I ask you today to please reconsider your decision. I’ve been at the county for 19 and a half years. I never woke up and thought I’d have to stand before you today to defend my job. I’ve always been a dedicated employee who’s never said no, and here I have to beg for my job,” she said.

Single mother Eboni McLemore, a juvenile probation support staffer for 19 years, was equally emotional. She was one of 39 slated to be cut. She had to pause for several moments while she cried. “Even though I’m not a front line employee like my P.O. brothers and sisters, we are the backbone and we are the support staff. If you get rid of us, who is there to support? Just please, just please find some other resources, this would be so detrimental not just to me but all my other brothers and sisters.”

Union layoffs are effective Jan. 5, and nonunion are effective Dec 8. Benefits for both will extend through the end of the month, and laid off employees will be offered services through the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. Comm. Sean Morrison (R-17) says he hopes those laid off employees will be first in line when others retire throughout the year.

Layoffs and vacancy eliminations account for about $158 million of the county’s shortfall. The budget also counts on $42 million in additional revenues–about half from increased Medicaid payments.

The Cook County Health and Hospitals System’s (CCHHS) labor division will be moved under the president’s Bureau of Human Resources to cut costs. The President’s Bureau of Technology will also take on the State’s Attorney’s IT functions. Board of Review satellite locations will close, as will the county’s branch court location at 2452 W. Belmont in mid-2018. The county will cut spending on justice programs, hold the line on salaries at their current rates, and institute furlough days at the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

“We maintained services at the hospital and criminal justice system and we achieved both of these goals without raising taxes,” Comm. Bridget Gainer (D-10) said, standing by her vote to repeal the beverage tax. “After a sales tax at the county, property tax at the city and income tax at the state, we need to find a balance between the county budget and a healthy economy.”

Comm. Richard Boykin (D-1) said he was proud this budget “doesn’t lay off public defenders, prosecutors, or front line sheriff’s police” and “helps to right size county budget.” Boykin was also happy his addition, a dedicated sexual harassment investigator included in the Office of the Independent Inspector General, made it in the amendments.

At a brief, solemn press conference after the vote, Preckwinkle said the budget office will “almost immediately try to figure out how we’re going to put together the budget in fiscal year 2019.”