Faced with a $315 million shortfall Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle proposed to county commissioners at an Oct. 24 board meeting some drastic steps to balance the budget for 2012.
For starters, her $2.94 billion budget proposal calls for 1,000 county employees to be laid off followed by tax hikes on alcohol, tobacco products and cars. Taxes collected from tobacco products alone would bring in $12 million a year, according to Preckwinkle.
“This budget rests on a framework of long term financial management and strategic structural changes across county government,” she said.
Taxes on wholesale alcohol sales would rise. Beer would go from 6 cents to 9 cents a gallon, and liquor with more than 20 percent alcohol by volume would increase from $2 to $2.50 a gallon. The new taxes, which typically get passed on to drinkers, could raise nearly $30 million. The county alcohol tax hasn’t been raised since 1989, officials said.
The county use tax levied on the purchase of cars, boats and other titled property would go up a quarter percentage point to 1 percent, earning an estimated $14 million to pay for improvements to county roads, highways and bridges.
Parking at county courthouses, which has been free, would cost $4.75. New parking rates at Stroger Hospital are still being negotiated, added Preckwinkle.
And those living in unincorporated areas could pay more for police services, and people parking in county garages would have to pay for the privilege.
Preckwinkle also wants to wring out more than $200 million in cost savings. She would shed approximately 1,600 jobs, including the elimination of 543 vacant positions. Among the layoffs are 282 from Preckwinkle’s office, including 180 custodial positions due to “managed competition” that she hopes could save $2.5 million. Other job cuts would be spread out countywide, including the health and hospital system, and the offices of the sheriff, state’s attorney and chief judge.
Preckwinkle is offering to save another 500 jobs if unions agree to six unpaid holidays next year, said Neil Khare, Preckwinkle’s director of policy. Under Preckwinkle’s plan, county workers also will take an unpaid “shutdown day” the Friday after Thanksgiving, when courts are already closed.
The board president is seeking to also reduce the jail population by 1,000 by using ankle monitors and other alternatives for defendants awaiting trial to save $5 million. Weekend bond court would be consolidated at the courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue to save $1.9 million.
Preckwinkle wants to reduce the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center population next year by 150 to save $1 million. The budget adds $800,000 so juvenile probation can hire alternative secure group homes for detention and rehabilitation.
Budgets for the county’s chief public safety offices would be cut. The sheriff’s office would lose about $8 million, the chief judge about $4 million and the state’s attorney about $3 million. All three of those officeholders historically have pushed back hard at attempts to cut their budget.
Preckwinkle also is following through on a campaign promise to roll back part of the county’s sales tax, with a quarter percentage point set to expire Jan. 1.