One of the most violent counties in the nation tied a plan to hire more than 100 policing recruits to a soda tax -- but the plan fell flat when a lawsuit succeeded in keeping the tax from taking effect, forcing the Illinois county to lay off the vital emergency responders.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which helps serve the county seat of Chicago, said 66 incoming recruits who were expected to start training next week were notified their incoming class had been suspended and 47 trainees who began last month were laid off, the Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday.
The layoffs were part of countywide job cuts to make up for the loss of anticipated revenue from a proposed tax on soda that was recently put on hold.
“These are very difficult times for everyone,” said Cara Smith, chief policy officer for the sheriff’s office. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep our staff safe and keep the public safe.”
Smith said she is hopeful the budget crisis passes soon and training class can resume.
In addition to the recruits, 12 other employees -- including eight people who work at county courthouses -- were laid off. These layoffs were in addition to more than 300 county job cuts announced last week, the Tribune reported.
The layoffs in the sheriff’s office come during a critical period for Chicago, which is in the midst of an epidemic of gun and gang violence.
In January, the nation’s third largest city revealed more than 760 homicides had been recorded in 2016 – an average of two murders per day. The increase in 2016 homicides compared to 2015, when 485 were reported, was the largest spike in 60 years.
According to the Tribune, the county projected to collect about $67.5 million in revenue from the tax on soda this year and more than $200 million for fiscal year 2018.
But a Cook County judge issued a temporary restraining order June 30 on the soda tax after the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and several grocers filed a lawsuit against the county seeking to block the tax. They called it unconstitutional and too vague.
Soon after Circuit Judge Dabiel Kubasiak issued the order, 10 percent across-the-board cuts were ordered by the Cook County Board. The county’s state’s attorney’s office said 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.