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County Board kept in dark on budget

Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

Cook County Board President John Stroger has slashed more than $100 million from a proposed budget that's still under wraps, with more behind-the-scenes cutting expected this week before commissioners finally get to see it.

Details weren't released Monday, but Stroger is well behind schedule in presenting the budget to commissioners, who are supposed to vote on it before Dec. 1. Commissioners have watched Mayor Daley spend weeks presenting tax-and-cut options to balance the city budget, but have heard no similar proposals from Stroger.

"I know more about the city budget than I do the county's," said Commissioner Larry Suffredin. "That concerns me a lot because I don't even know if we've got a surplus or a deficit."

Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said the county had a $252 million gap to fill and has spent months slicing that deficit. Though she wouldn't provide details, she said that deficit is now down to $146 million and "now we're looking at additional cuts and new revenues."

Tax hikes likely

That likely means a proposal for tax increases, and commissioners have heard talk of a hike in the county's share of restaurant, hotel and telephone taxes -- though none have been confirmed. That's on top of any tax increases to come from the Forest Preserve District, which is looking for a way to pay for $100 million in bonds approved this year.

District spokesman Steve Mayberry said the budget is ready for Stroger's review and will then go to the full board for consideration.

Last year, Commissioner Earlean Collins said Stroger needed to present budgets earlier, while most commissioners said they wanted serious cuts before they'd consider tax increases. With this year's delay, they're concerned about another lengthy budget battle dragging into 2005.

"This is like 'Groundhog Day' government," Commissioner Mike Quigley said. "I wake up asking, 'Didn't we just do this yesterday? Didn't we just do this last year?'

 

 



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