Residents of unincorporated Cook County could pay an average of $150 more per household to keep sheriff's office service as part of a plan by Board President Toni Preckwinkle to help close an expected $315 million gap in next year's budget.
Preckwinkle and a delegation of county finance officials outlined the public safety fee among many deficit-cutting measures Monday.
"This is the hardest budget gap we've had to close in county history," Preckwinkle said. "In part, because we did a lot of easy things last time; a lot of the low-hanging fruit we picked last year."
About 2 percent of the county's 5.2 million residents live in unincorporated areas of the suburbs, Preckwinkle said. That's around 100,000 people in more than 100 pockets throughout the county. Under her plan, these residents would be given the choice to pay the new fee for continued patrol service by the sheriff's office, contract with the nearest municipality for police protection or annex to the nearest municipality and pay for police service through municipal property taxes.
Preckwinkle estimated the new fee would generate about $5.5 million for the county if all the residents participate. She argued under the current arrangement, the other 98 percent of the county's residents are subsidizing the unincorporated residents' public safety costs.
"I guess I understand the point that it's being subsidized, but my point is I'm paying taxes and certainly feel I'm taxed enough," said Tom Schnabl, a resident of the unincorporated Lake Park Estates subdivision near Palatine. "And that's $150 for what? To maintain what they're doing now, which isn't a lot. And that's not a complaint, this just isn't a high-crime area."
Attempts to annex to Palatine in the past have failed. Schnabl and some of his neighbors agree it would be worthwhile for them to check with Palatine about contracting for police service.
Lake Park Estates resident Susan McBride said she once called for police and the dispatcher told her the nearest patrol deputy was in Berwyn.
"The homeowners here won't be happy about this," she said.
In addition to the public safety fee, Preckwinkle estimated more than 1,000 county employees would have to be laid off if unions don't concede to several unpaid holiday and government shutdown days. Either solution would result in nearly $220 million in savings to the county, officials said.
"When 80 percent of your costs are personnel, inevitably there are going to be substantial layoffs," Preckwinkle said.
Preckwinkle reported that when her office began compiling budget requests from the 10 other countywide elected offices this year, all but three -- clerk, treasurer and recorder -- asked for increases over last year's amount. In a process she described as "begging, needling, cajoling and arm-twisting," Preckwinkle said her office's finance staff has come to budget agreements with all of the other elected offices except the chief judge, court clerk and board of review. Preckwinkle's budget director, Andrea Gibson, said her office had recently come to agreement with Sheriff Tom Dart, though they initially started $60 million apart. Dart's budget will be $401 million next year, which is $8 million less than it is currently.
Preckwinkle also said more than $400 million worth of capital spending will occur over the next three years on infrastructure mainly in the suburbs. There is a list of priorities for suburban road improvements, officials from her office said, but they are awaiting the hiring of a highway superintendent to implement the plan.
The budget has to be approved by the start of the next fiscal year, Dec. 1, 2011.