Preckwinkle and Dart wrangling over county budget — again
BY LISA DONOVAN Cook County Reporter email@example.com October 14, 2011 7:36PM
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart will jointly discuss the 2011 county budget outside of the President's office. Tuesday, February 1, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: November 16, 2011 3:57PM
Just two weeks ago they greeted each other with a hug before a press conference, but Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart aren’t exactly embracing one another’s plans for the 2012 budget.
It’s not the first time the two popular politicians have feuded over money matters.
Right now, Preckwinkle is gathering budget proposals from each county office and kneading them into a single spending plan, but Friday one of her top aides singled out Dart, saying the sheriff is asking for more money at a time when officials are looking at austerity measures.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of layoffs, if not a thousand layoffs or more, on the table, and they’re asking for a 5 percent increase over last year?” said Kurt Summers, Preckwinkle’s chief of staff. “We think it’s irresponsible.”
Indeed, Preckwinkle is working to cut $315 million in spending next year — 10 percent of the county’s $3 billion budget.
The sheriff’s budget was $409 million this year, but he’s submitted a budget of $428 million for 2012 — down from the $450 million budget he originally pitched.
But Preckwinkle’s office believes the sheriff’s budget should be right around $391 million.
“I’m frankly surprised at his comments. We have been working on the budget,” said sheriff’s spokesman Frank Bilecki. He said 90 percent of the budget covers payroll – salaries reached through union negotiations and difficult to undo. He also said the sheriff’s office has been working with Preckwinkle’s staff to beef up enforcement of the cigarette tax, yielding $800,000 in fines in recent weeks.
The issue comes up as Preckwinkle works to close a $315 million shortfall in her 2012 budget proposal.
During the last budget season, Preckwinkle and the sheriff famously sparred over this year’s budget. Preckwinkle said — as her administration is now repeating — that she’d slash his budget if he didn’t.
Last time, Dart sarcastically suggested at a news conference that, perhaps, his entire budget could be scrapped and he could patrol the county and guard the jail on his bicycle.
No one is declaring war right now, but there is some “tension” the sheriff’s office says.
“There’s natural tension at this point. When we talk about cuts, we’re talking about human lives, we’re talking about families — people already taking furlough days” and have to figure a way to make ends meet, Bilecki said.