DuPage County officials warn of possible cuts
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin and Public Defender Jeff York say their offices need to fill vacant positions in the coming year and potential budget cuts would have a "devastating" effect on public safety.
County board members recently learned that DuPage is facing a budget shortfall of roughly $16.5 million during the 2021 fiscal year, which starts Dec. 1. Departments are proposing to spend a total of $181.2 million in fiscal 2021 while the county is projected to collect $164.7 million.
But during their budget presentations on Tuesday, Berlin and York said their offices have positions that have gone unfilled because of previous budget reductions.
Berlin is seeking to increase his office's budget by 4.2% to $10.07 million so it can hire four assistant state's attorneys and four support staff members. And York wants his office's budget increased by 4.5% to $3.35 million so it could hire two public defenders.
"We need lawyers," York told the county board's judicial and public safety committee.
York said the public defender's office was busy before the COVID-19 outbreak. Now it's getting more new cases as a result of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
"More people are going to qualify for our services -- even if they had a private attorney previously -- because of unemployment or underemployment," York said. "Our services are directly related to people's ability to afford an attorney."
He said filling two vacant positions would help alleviate the caseload.
Berlin said the number of felony cases in DuPage has risen by 25% since 2016. And while it seeks "a fair disposition" in each case, he said the state's attorney's office won't make offers or negotiate cases to save money.
"We'll do what's right," Berlin said. "But I will not compromise public safety in order to save the cost of doing the trial."
Unless other steps are taken to close DuPage's projected budget gap for next year, each county department could be asked to reduce their budgets by 9.1%.
Berlin said such cuts "would have a devastating impact on public safety."
He said the state's attorney's office would have to reduce staff and courtrooms would have to close.
"If I had to lay people off, that means that there are certain crimes we simply would not be able to prosecute," Berlin said. "That would actually cost the public a lot more."
He said attorneys in the office already work many hours, including nights and weekends.
"The caseloads that we have are above what's recommended by the American Prosecutors Research Institute," Berlin said. "But they're dedicated, and they continue to it because they believe in the mission."
York, meanwhile, said cuts would be devastating to his office because it's already thinly staffed. He said he would be forced to pay his staff less money to do more work.
"I can't afford to lose lawyers," he said.
Some county board members reacted by saying the state's attorney's and public defender's offices should get their requested budgets.
Board member Jim Zay said he believes the criminal justice system is a priority in DuPage. "So I think we have to find other ways to cut," the Carol Stream Republican said.