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Prosecutor raises may mean tax hikes in Cook County

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

A tax increase for Cook County looked all but certain Monday as board President Todd Stroger announced pay raises for prosecutors that commit 2008 funds.
"If we don't have some kind of increase (in revenue), we'd have to cut services so severely there'd be some real hardship," Stroger said during a news conference.
Prosecutors, who had threatened walkouts, will receive an 8 percent cost-of-living pay raise retroactive to 2004 and a $500 bonus, Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said. Other nonunion staff get a smaller increase.
The raises will be paid for with $21 million the county received two weeks ago in an asbestos-related public building commission lawsuit against U.S. Gypsum.
But that's a one-time source of cash.
Stroger's resolution to provide the raises, up for a vote today, also promises prosecutors and all other county employees a 4.75 percent raise next year that would cost $113 million.
That's money the county does not have in the budget now.
Stroger ruled out a property tax increase last week and is asking the state for $100 million to help the county health system. But both Stroger and Suffredin, who fought Stroger on the budget last year, said some other boost in revenue will still be needed.
Suffredin and finance committee chairman John Daley (D-Chicago) also say they're going to try to push the county sheriff, chief judge and court clerk to come up with creative ways to boost revenue.
Stroger said he would have preferred to wait to give prosecutors their raises rather than being forced to commit 2008 money.
But increasingly over the past week, vocal assistant state's attorneys have been making threats. State's Attorney Dick Devine's top assistant, Robert Milan, was quoted in reports as saying commissioners would "pay the price" if they didn't find a way to boost salaries.
Devine tried to downplay those threats Monday.
"What everybody was saying is you can't lose a good portion of experienced and qualified prosecutors," Devine said. "That's going to affect the entire Cook County justice system."
The raise for prosecutors and attorneys in the public guardian's office brings them "complete parity" with the unionized public defenders, Stroger said.
The other roughly 5,000 nonunion county employees, will get "partial" cost-of-living increases retroactive to the start of this year plus a $1,000 bonus, Suffredin said.
Raises for the prosecutors were promised during 2007 budget negotiations, but Stroger held off on delivering when the promised revenue stream -- the sale of land at Oak Forest Hospital -- took longer than some expected.

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