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County budget passes; calls for 321 employees to be laid off

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office no longer will be required to send an investigator to the scene of every suspicious death — a requirement it routinely ignored. | Sun-Times file photo

Hundreds of Cook County employees will be laid off under a 2018 budget passed unanimously Tuesday by the Board of Commissioners.

The 321 layoffs were necessitated by a budget hole of about $200 million created when commissioners earlier this year repealed a penny-an-ounce sweetened beverage tax.

“Today the board met its most basic obligation. It has taken a tremendous effort to get to this point, but I’m pleased to say that together we have done so,” Board President Toni Preckwinkle said after the vote. “This is not the budget I wanted. We disagree on many things, but continue to work together.”

Preckwinkle had championed the tax, and had warned that layoffs would result if it were repealed. She called the decision “heartbreaking.”

Some county employees have already been notified that they are being laid off, but some departments have until Dec. 8 to notify nonunion workers, and Jan. 5 to notify union workers because of a clause in their contract.

All will receive services from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership for post-employment help, Preckwinkle said.

The layoffs break down this way: Five from the county assessor’s office; eight from the Board of Review; 34 from Cook County Health and Hospital Corporation; 156 from the office of Chief Judge Tim Evans; three from the Cook County clerk’s office; 15 from Preckwinkle’s office, and 100 from the office of Sheriff Tom Dart.

Although many expected the amended budget to pass, members of unions and those who will be laid off made a last-ditch effort to sway commissioners to vote no.

Amy Carioscia, who will be laid off from her juvenile probation position, pleaded with commissioners to find another way to balance the budget. Her husband was laid off earlier this year, she said.

“I’ve been at the county for 19.5 years and I’ve never woken up and thought I would have to stand before you today to defend my job,” Carioscia said through tears. “I’ve always been a dedicated employee, but here I am begging for my job. I haven’t slept in days knowing that I would be laid off, and I would just beg you to reconsider.”

The human aspect of the vote was not lost on commissioners. During their minute to speak about the budget, all thanked the employees for their work and said the onus of creating a balanced budget without cuts would be on them in the future.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, who brokered a deal over the weekend and Monday to reduce some of the layoffs, also urged his colleagues to do a better job in the future at creating revenue and keep potentially budget-imploding repeals within the budget process.

“People should really wonder what type of government we are when we’re laying off people at this time of year,” said Suffredin — who nonetheless was a reluctant “yes” vote because “this is the only solution we have on this day.”

Discussions for the 2019 budget year will start in early December, Preckwinkle said, so the county can begin to consider revenue-creating measures.