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Cook County misses its layoff mark
But Preckwinkle's office says there's still time for more pink slips

Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Erika Slife

Cook County government leaders have yet to hit the layoff totals they talked about this year, but County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's administration indicated Tuesday that more might be coming.

Figures Preckwinkle's office released Tuesday show that 357 employees have been laid off. That's less than the 500 or so pink slips the administration projected following a budget deal in March.


County government hoped to save $19 million the rest of the year from the layoffs, but so far officials estimate savings at $13.6 million by Nov. 30, the last day of the county's budget year.

"Layoffs are still happening, and other cost-cutting measures are still happening," said Preckwinkle spokeswoman Jessey Neves. "This number is the amount that has happened to date, but layoffs are still ongoing."

The administration did not provide specifics on how many more layoffs will take place and what departments they will hit, but one area where Preckwinkle wants to see more cuts is the county's health and hospital system. Its independent governing board had anticipated 593 layoffs, but has only laid off 188 workers so far, according to the data.

"We anticipated that some employees would be transferred to vacant positions so the number may have been lower than originally projected," Neves said in an email. "But we did not anticipate such a glaring discrepancy."

Hospital system spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said that now that the fate of Oak Forest Hospital, which will be more of an outpatient care center, has been resolved, "we're finally in a place where we can see the savings in both personnel and operations."

"Those savings will be felt from now through the end of the fiscal year and into the future," she said.

The hospital system has been a frequent target of Preckwinkle's in recent months as she looks to gain firmer control of county spending in her first year on the job. Health officials and Preckwinkle's staff are haggling over the amount of taxpayer subsidy that will go to the health system next year. The health system's chief financial officer has asked for $327.6 million, but Preckwinkle has said the county should give no more than $243 million.

Preckwinkle has laid off 92 people from her own administration. Other savings have come from retirements and the elimination of vacant positions, said her chief of staff, Kurt Summers.

Preckwinkle and her budget team are now putting the final touches on a proposed spending plan for next year as they aim to close a budget hole estimated at $315 million. Preckwinkle and her budget director have been meeting with unions, but both sides are remaining tight-lipped about whether county employees should brace themselves for further cuts. Preckwinkle earlier called layoffs "inevitable."

Preckwinkle prevented hundreds more layoffs when she struck a deal with most county unions that required the county's 23,000 employees to take 10 unpaid days off this year, a deal that was to help the county save roughly $30 million.

In recent weeks, it was revealed that five commissioners who voted for the $3.05 billion budget in February had refused to the take the salary cuts. Under Illinois law, it's illegal to reduce an elected official's salary during a term, so the commissioners must voluntarily take the pay cut.


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