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Cook County Backs Off Plan To Charge Jurors To Park At Courthouses

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UPDATED 11/09/11 7:30 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is agreeing to a compromise that will keep jurors from having to pay for parking when they come to most of the County’s courts.

As WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, Preckwinkle’s proposed budget would have ended free parking for everyone at county courthouses, including jurors.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

The Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California, and all five suburban courthouses – in Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Bridgeview and Markham – would have been affected.

When asked during an editorial board meeting at the time about jurors having to pay for parking that was once free, Preckwinkle quipped: “It’s their civic duty.”

She compared the proposed $4.75 daily parking charge to roundtrip CTA fare.

But in recent days, Cook County Commissioners John Fritchey (D-12th) and Larry Suffredin (D-13th), both Democrats, argued against the fee for jurors and law enforcement.

Now, Preckwinkle and Fritchey have come up with a plan that will still have most people pay the $4.75 fee, but which will exempt jurors and law enforcement officers, whose parking will be validated.

“As I’ve said, lawyers practicing in the courthouse should pay, but jurors, law enforcement and witnesses are there to do their duties and shouldn’t be forced to pay,” Suffredin told the Sun-Times Tuesday when he learned of Preckwinkle’s change of heart.

For now, Preckwinkle is only calling for exempting jurors and law enforcement. Sources say she didn’t have the nine votes among the 17 county commissioners to approve the measure, so she killed it.

For her part, Preckwinkle said through a spokesman: “Jurors play a critical role in the administration of public safety in our communities.”

The new parking fees at the suburban and city courthouses along with plans to boost fees at Stroger Hospital and other facilities were expected to generate $6 million in new revenues in 2012.

Without jurors and police paying the daily parking fee, the county will lose a projected $700,000. The loss in revenue will be made up by slashing funding for printing, transportation and training, said Preckwinkle spokesman Owen Kilmer.

The parking revenue is part of a $2.9 billion spending plan Preckwinkle introduced last month for the 2012 fiscal year.

The plan also calls for higher taxes on alcohol, tobacco, cars and boats, and also calls for residents of unincorporated suburban Cook County to pay up for police protection provided by the Cook County sheriff’s office.

READ THE BLUEPRINT OF PRECKWINKLE’S BUDGET PLAN

Commissioners will vote on a final budget package — along with some changes like this one — next week.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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