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Cook County sheriff's office lays off recruits, trainees because of soda tax holdup

Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Megan Crepeau

More than 110 Cook County sheriff's office recruits and trainees were laid off this week after a proposed countywide tax on soda was put on hold, officials said.

The sheriff's office layoffs are in addition to more than 300 county job cuts announced last week to make up for the loss of anticipated revenue from the soda tax.

"These are very difficult times for everyone," said Cara Smith, chief policy officer for the sheriff's office.

Sixty-six incoming recruits who were expected to start training next week have been notified that their class is suspended, and 47 trainees who began at the academy last month were laid off.

In addition, 12 other employees, including eight people who work at county courthouses, were laid off. Members of two specialty units will be reassigned to the Cook County Jail.

Smith said she is hopeful that the budget crisis passes and the training classes can be resumed, but in the meantime, security is the first priority.

"We're going to do everything we can to keep our staff safe and keep the public safe," Smith said.

The sheriff's office is responsible for several essential operations in the county's justice system, including the Cook County Jail, the sheriff's police and courthouse security.

Other county agencies felt the budget pinch last week as 10 percent across-the-board cuts were ordered after the soda tax was held up by a Cook County judge.

The Cook County state's attorney's office announced last week that 17 prosecutors and 22 other employees would be laid off. The Public Defender's office cut 69 employees, most of them lawyers.

The soda tax was supposed to go into effect July 1. But a judge issued a temporary restraining order June 30 after the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and several grocers filed a lawsuit against the county Department of Revenue seeking to block the tax as unconstitutional and too vague.

Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak is scheduled to take up the county's motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Friday, but he isn't expected to announce his decision until a week later, according to Frank Shuftan, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's spokesman.

"We can't predict what the judge may or may not do, how long the court case may last, and, as such, have to proceed with the holdback," Shuftan wrote in an email to the Tribune last week.

Cook County had projected collecting about $67.5 million in revenue from the tax this year and more than $200 million for fiscal year 2018.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @crepeau



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