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Stroger finds millions for county
U.S. health funds help cut deficit to $100 million

Thursday, December 02, 2004
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County's projected 2005 budget deficit has been lowered from $146 million to about $100 million as a result of an anticipated influx of federal health-care dollars, Board President John Stroger said Wednesday.

The increased revenue stems from "getting more federal payments for certain treatments," Stroger said.

The county has identified additional revenue sources through patient and pharmaceutical billings, added Caryn Stancik, a spokeswoman for Stroger.

Stroger, who has yet to release his 2005 spending plan, has suggested taxes he might attempt to increase to close the gap, although he has not tipped his hand publicly on which ones he might be leaning toward.

He has said that increasing property taxes would only come as a last resort.

Wednesday's revised deficit projection came during a meeting in which commissioners approved a continuing resolution to allow county government to operate in the new fiscal year while budget negotiations continue.

Stroger said he plans to release his proposed 2005 budget "very soon" but he declined to elaborate. He said he and his staff continue to work with department heads and other elected officials in an effort to cut costs to further reduce the deficit.

Federal Medicaid funds have been a steady source of revenue growth for the county under Stroger, more than doubling since 1995 to an estimated $544 million this year.

The increased federal funding has helped Stroger keep the county's portion of the property tax levy relatively flat since he took office a decade ago.

County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) has referred to the projected 2005 budget shortfall as a "phantom deficit" because Stroger has not yet revealed any budget details.

"Why is there mystery on this?" Suffredin asked Wednesday. "None of this is trade secrets."

Suffredin said a key question remains what steps Stroger is taking to cut the cost of running the government.


 

 



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