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Sheriff: I Won't Let Layoffs Forced By Blocked 'Pop Tax' Threaten Progress

 Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announces that he has identified James
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announces that he has identified James "Jimmy" Byron Haakenson as one of the 33 people killed by Gacy.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CHICAGO — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Wednesday that he would not allow layoffs and cuts forced on his department to threaten his department's ability to keep Cook County residents safe.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Friday that 300 employees would be laid off and 600 vacant positions left unfilled to make up for the now-blocked "pop tax"that had been set to add a penny per ounce to the cost of sweetened drinks.

Dart announced Tuesday that an additional 110 Cook County sheriff's office recruits and trainees would be laid off because of the cuts ordered by Preckwinkle.

"I didn't create this issue, which was dropped in our lap," Dart said at a news conference on an unrelated matter. "I will not allow it to destroy our operations."

The class of 66 recruits that had been set to start next week has been canceled, and the 47 recruits that started the academy last month have been laid off, officials said.

In addition, 12 employees — including eight who work at county courthouses — have been laid off, officials said.

Those cuts will force one of two entrances at the Daley Center Courthouse to be closed during non-peak hours, Dart said.

In addition, the cuts will change how detainees held in maximum security are transported to and from court dates, Dart said. That is likely to boost overtime spending, he added.

However, those cuts keep the department only through the end of the year, Dart said.

"I don't know what happens then," Dart said, rejecting suggestions that the sheriff's department is "bloated" with highly paid managers.

"That is an insane suggestion," Dart said. "That is the talk of crazy people."

Dart noted that he has no security detail or driver — like some other top county officials — and has already made deep cuts to department operations.

RELATED: 17 State's Attorneys, 22 Staffers Laid Off After Pop Tax Gets Blocked

The sweetened beverage tax had been expected to bring in $68 million through the end of 2017 and $200 million in 2018. To fill that hole, Preckwinkle ordered 10 percent cuts across the county.

A court hearing on whether the tax should be blocked permanently is set for Friday.

Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association that brought the lawsuit with several store owners, told reporters that it was "absolutely necessary" that the "unconstitutional" tax be blocked because it treats sweetened drinks sold in a bottle differently than sweetened drinks prepared to order.

Dubbed the "pop tax," the fee — approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners by one vote last November — also applies to hundreds of beverages beyond soft drinks.

The beverage industry lobby, which opposes the tax, has circulated a sample list of affected drinks, which runs 11 pages. The list includes juice drinks, sports drinks like Gatorade, flavored water with zero calories or sweeteners, iced tea, pop and lemonade.