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Tracking your tax dollars: Cook County, get with the program

Friday, March 06, 2009
by SouthtownStar editorial staff

THE ISSUE: The Cook County Board passed a resolution to publish all county expenditures, taking cues from neighboring DuPage County.

WE SAY: There is no reason Cook County should drag its feet on the proposal unless elected officials have something to hide.

H ere's a change of pace for Illinois: DuPage County's newly elected auditor, Bob Grogan, recently published online every expenditure countywide, leaving off the list only payments that could be considered privacy violations.

What does this mean? If you pay taxes in DuPage County, you can view on a monthly basis exactly how public officials are spending your money, down to a $32.38 purchase of file folders for the DuPage County clerk of the circuit court. The only payments not included in the monthly checklist are those protected by privacy rules, such as payroll stubs or reimbursements to health care providers on behalf of insured employees.

Visit the DuPage County Web site to see for yourself: Click on the auditor button. On the left side of the auditor page, click on the "Transparency in Government" tab. From lunch meetings to ink cartridges, it's all there.

In Cook County, 16th District Commissioner Tony Peraica followed DuPage's cue. He introduced a resolution during Wednesday's board meeting calling on Cook County to do the same. Why shouldn't taxpayers be able to track county expenditures? No good reason exists, unless elected officials have something to hide.

Ten Cook County Board members supported Peraica's initiative, including Southland commissioners Jerry Butler (D-3rd), of Chicago, John Daley (D-11th), of Chicago, Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-17th), of Orland Park, and Peraica (R-16th), of Riverside. Commissioners William Beavers (D-4th), of Chicago, and Joseph Moreno (D-7th), of Chicago, voted against it, and Deborah Sims (D-5th) of Chicago voted present. Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-6th), of Crestwood, was absent.

Opponents of the measure cited cost concerns. That's hogwash.

Peraica's office received an initial $15,000 estimate from the county's own information technology department to get the program up and running. That's $15,000 of a $3 billion budget.

Even if Peraica's estimate is low, the overall cost would amount to a small percentage of the county's overall budget, and an expense, in our opinion, worth every penny. The cost-savings alone from department heads who might spend their budgets a bit more wisely, knowing the information is easily available, will pay for the program going forward.

More importantly, Cook County Board members already receive the information in their twice-a-month packets. They approve expenditures at each board meeting. So there's no reason the public shouldn't have access to the same information, particularly with today's technology. We're talking about transferring data to a disk and popping it up on the county's Web site.

If DuPage County can get its program up and running in a matter of weeks, Cook County can, too.

The difficulties lie ahead, however. Peraica's resolution passed, but that doesn't mean it will be implemented. Resolutions are advisory only.

Peraica's staff says he intends to introduce the idea in binding ordinance-form if Cook County administrators drag their feet.

We won't wait for miracles, but we hope with an election year looming, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger will realize the importance of this initiative and instruct his departments to work together to get it done.

We'll be keeping tabs to make sure taxpayers know about it, if he does not.

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