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Commissioners want answers on county's financial picture

Thursday, April 06, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Cook County officials insist there is no pressing financial crisis in county government -- right now.
And they say there's no need to borrow funds to pay bills and make ends meet -- at this time.
But county commissioners hoping for a bright picture of the county's financial future were left disappointed Wednesday as no promises were made about whether the county has the funds needed to survive all of 2006.
Cigarette tax hurting revenue?
"If the iceberg is ahead, is someone going to see it before we hit it?" Commissioner Peter Silvestri asked, referring to the sinking of the Titanic. "In April of 1912, if they saw it a little earlier, they wouldn't have sunk."
On Monday, Crain's Chicago Business reported that the county had approached a bank about possibly seeking a $200 million line of credit to pay county bills.
County officials insist they are not seeking a line of credit, adding they expect a clearer financial picture to emerge next month, as first-quarter revenues emerge.
But of concern are the revenues at the county hospitals and whether smokers are continuing to buy their cigarettes in Cook County, despite a $2-a-pack county cigarette tax.
Commissioner Jerry Butler said many "are starting to feel a little nervous about how many cigarettes are going to be smoked this year," though comptroller Walter Knorr said the county's payroll and big-ticket expenses "are running in a consistent basis."
But when Silvestri asked Thomas Glaser, the county's chief financial officer, if he anticipates "a cash crunch" by the end of the year, Glaser said "it's too early to make a definitive statement on that."
Commissioner John Daley said he and others have been concerned about county revenue projections since the budget was passed.
Compounding those concerns is the health of board President John Stroger, who is recovering from a stroke.
Chief of staff James Whigham, running daily operations in Stroger's absence, said there haven't been major decisions requiring Stroger's input, and "we will proceed like government normally proceeds."

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