Preckwinkle eyes cutting forest preserve cops, hiking court fees
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
by Lisa Donovan
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
released a plan Tuesday for her first term in office that could
jettison the controversial Forest Preserve police to cut costs and
generate revenues by raising or expanding court and other fees.
The 26-page report prepared for Preckwinkle by her
transition team focuses on putting the county’s fiscal house in order
while professionalizing a $3 billion government tarnished by scandal.
She released the sweeping recommendations just one day after she was
The report revisits what Preckwinkle has said for
weeks about the county’s dire financial picture in 2011: An estimated
$487 million hole is looming in a $3.2 billion spending plan.
With the fiscal year already begun Dec. 1 and the
budget deadline Feb. 28, Preckwinkle is calling for 21 percent
across-the-board cuts in the final three quarters of the year. That
could translate to significant layoffs as roughly 80 percent of the
county’s finances cover payroll and benefits.
During her first 100 days in office, she plans to
cap most hiring and salaries in her office and limit overtime while
expanding youth education programs at the county-run forest preserves
This lays the ground work for repealing,
incrementally, the remainder of the unpopular penny-on-the-dollar sales
tax hike by 2013, Preckwinkle has said.
The report, developed with the advice of business
and community leaders along with an array of retired government workers
and politicians, acknowledges she needs the support of the 17 county
commissioners along with the 11 separately elected officials to get
While Preckwinkle and her staff couldn’t be reached
to talk about specifics, the report alludes to expanding the base of
fees or hiking existing fees to at least keep up with inflation.
“County government can generate non-tax revenues by
optimizing fee levels, for example license or court fees,” the report
states in part. “County government can in addition charge convenience
fees and charge fees to access information stored by the [c]ounty,
particulars information stored for commercial purposes.”
She’s also examining whether to dissolve the county’s forest preserve police, handing off those duties to the sheriff’s office.
“A transfer of policing responsibilities would save taxpayers,” the report states.
While the Forest Preserve of Cook County is a
legally separate entity — with a separate budget — from Cook County
government, the president and county commissioners run both.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has supported taking over the policing duties, saying it would save taxpayers $8 million annually.
Last year, the Sun-Times reported the Forest
Preserve of Cook County paid $2 million for a Westchester home next to a
nature preserve, ostensibly to keep development at bay, only to turn it
in to a 5,428-square-foot forest preserve police headquarters.
Preckwinkle and other candidates cried foul, particularly after learning the pricetag for rehabbing the home: $714,526.