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County won't raise property taxes after all

Sunday, December 11, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Cook County Board President John Stroger got a bit of an early Christmas present last week, as his budget and finance team found a way to balance the 2006 budget without raising property taxes.

There will be other tax increases proposed, but Stroger will look to extend his streak of not raising property taxes to 12 straight years.

Stroger is set to deliver his present to taxpayers before Christmas, but smokers and those who stay in hotels or eat in restaurants in Cook County might think of Stroger as a bit of a Scrooge by the time he's done laying out his plan to support the county's $3 billion budget.

Stroger is gauging reaction to his tax plan among the other 16 county commissioners he'll be asking to vote on it. Just weeks ago, even as he announced his plans to seek re-election in 2006, Stroger seemed resigned to the fact he'd have to raise property taxes in order to close a projected $250 million budget deficit.

Delayed releasing budget

But Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said that deficit has been whittled to the point that "property taxes are off the table." Stroger has delayed releasing the budget, which must be passed by Feb. 28, as critics have been waiting to pounce on word of tax increases. Last year, critics swayed a majority of the board to shoot down Stroger's plan to hike hotel and restaurant taxes, but they appeared open to raising "sin taxes," such as those on cigarettes. The county's cigarette tax revenue consistently exceeds projections, even with city, county and state tax hikes.

Stroger has also demanded greater accountability from hospital staffers, who he says aren't doing enough to collect revenues owed to the health system

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