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Procrastination on parking plan

Parking lot Markham Courthouse Markham Illinois Monday October 24 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times

Parking lot at the Markham Courthouse in Markham, Illinois, Monday, October, 24, 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 19, 2012 6:08AM

June 1 came and went and still prosecutors, judges, suspects and others doing business at Cook County’s city and suburban criminal courthouses are parking in the garages and lots there — free of charge.

The county had said it would start charging for parking at those lots by the start of June.

Now, officials say they will start to charge come August or September, meaning most visitors and all staff will have to fork over $4.75 daily to park at criminal court complexes in Chicago, Skokie, Bridgeview, Markham, Rolling Meadows and Maywood.

Simple math suggests the county might not bring in as much money as originally predicted — at least not initially. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office estimates the fee would raise $2.7 million over the last six months of this year. Asked about the potential loss of a summer’s worth of parking fees, Preckwinkle spokesman Owen Kilmer said in an email: “We’re confident there won’t be a revenue loss.”

While it’s a modest revenue stream for a $3 billion government, the plan has certainly drawn discussion and even controversy. When she initially unveiled it, Preckwinkle suggested jurors also pay, telling the Sun-Times editorial board “it’s their civic duty.” Eventually she backed away and worked out an agreement with county commissioners to exempt jurors as well as law enforcement, crime victims and witnesses summoned for trial or related business as well as early voters casting ballots at suburban courthouses.

The project went out for bid and the process took longer than expected, but Preckwinkle’s office says the plan is moving toward the final phases of implementation.

Whatever firm wins the contract, they are expected to install automated parking systems at the lots and garages. The projected price tag for the labor and equipment for an automated system is $1.8 million, said another Preckwinkle spokeswoman, Liane Jackson.

The parking garage and nine surface lots around Chicago’s 26th and California courthouse and jail next door — largely reserved for prosecuting and defense attorneys, judges and other courthouse staff, jurors and law enforcement — have been a free perk for years. So much so that several sheriff’s deputies guarding courtrooms there as well as prosecutors and defense attorneys expressed doubt last week the paid parking will come to fruition.

Others are making plans.

“I may have to take the bus,” a longtime clerk said. “We may have to boycott the lot.”

Ernestine Terrell, an elevator operator who also sits at the courthouse information desk, is thankful she is retiring in October.

“I missed a lot of bullets,” said Terrell, a 30-year court veteran.

Terrell, a North Sider, said she’ll drive to work for the rest of her time at the courthouse but said she feels sorry for her colleagues.

“It’s an extra burden, an extra frustration. … It’s just another way for them to take money from us because of their overspending,” said Terrell, 56. “They put their employees on the payroll, they have ghost workers, but they mess with us. They attack workers.”

Defense attorney Steven Greenberg said this isn’t the right way to for the county to fix its budget woes.

“There is so much fat and waste in the budget, yet they continue to plug holes. The criminal court system is supposed to be a means to maintain order in society. They are not supposed to be a revenue stream.”

A victim witness specialist in the state’s attorney’s office said that it’s unfair that cops, who will be paid overtime when they come to court, will be excused from paying in the lot while she and other employees who work there daily have to dig for change.

”We are not living in the lap of luxury in the criminal courthouse complex,” she said. “The fact that they want us to pay for the privilege to park at work is a slap in the face to workers.”

The county’s Juvenile Court, a few miles away from the 26th and California courthouse, charges $2 a day in its public garage.

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