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Commissioners in a tough position

Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Budget-cutting county commissioners are in a pickle. It turns out some of the amendments they passed for the 2005 budget could force them to fire their own staff.
One of those commissioners, Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), is trying to rush through an ordinance at the meeting today to fix the problem, but Cook County Board President John Stroger's office said he'll need to find money in the budget to do it.

"I'm just trying to rectify what I see as an injustice," Suffredin said. "Some of these people have been working in these positions since 1997."

Suffredin helped lead a rebellion against Stroger's proposed budget this year, which closed a $75 million deficit through increases in restaurant, hotel and other taxes.

Instead, commissioners pushed through a series of budget-cutting measures. Suffredin called for cutting in half the amount of money set aside for vacant positions.

In other words, any county job that wasn't filled would only get money in the budget for half a year.

All commissioners are allowed a four-person staff. But they're also allowed to take the money from one of those positions and use it to hire employees on a contract basis without benefits.

Suffredin said Stroger's budget department is now treating those positions as open positions and reducing their funding meaning the money for contract employees is cut in half.

"That was never the intention of my budget amendment," Suffredin said. "Commissioners have been doing this since 1997. ... These aren't open positions."

Suffredin doesn't employ any contractual employees. The commissioners he knows that do Greg Goslin, Carl Hansen and Anthony Peraica are all Republicans who have opposed Stroger.

Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said the budget staff is only following what the budget called for, and to do anything else would leave the budget unbalanced.

"The president has indicated he will not support this amendment because there isn't money identified to fund it," Stancik said.

Does Suffredin think Stroger's staff members are getting even with commissioners who rebelled against Stroger?

"I'm not projecting motivation onto anybody," Suffredin said.

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