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State set to eliminate Cook County TB district

Monday, April 10, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

BY One of those tiny, puzzling slices of your suburban property tax pie is on the verge of disappearing.
Last week, the state Senate passed a measure that would eliminate the Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District, folding its operations into the county's existing programs at the Public Health Department.
Legislators and others are optimistic the bill also will pass in the House.
Suburban Chicago is the last major metropolitan area to support a TB taxing district -- something critics say should have gone away decades ago.
"There's no reason Cook County should be living in the 1950s on this," said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who is sponsoring the bill. "This is about good, efficient government."
TB districts were formed in the 1940s because of outbreaks from a disease passed through the air by coughing or sneezing, largely by immigrants from countries with lesser immunization programs.
A strong immunization push led most areas to eliminate TB taxing districts and fold operations into existing health departments.
No organized opposition
Suburban county taxpayers this year are paying about $6 for every $100,000 in assessed valuation to support five offices, which treat about 130 new cases a year.
Cook County Board President John Stroger -- who appoints all five TB board members -- began the fight to eliminate the district two years ago, amid a power struggle with former board members and a former director of what was then a $6 million government.
Part of the spending went to lobbyists to fight to keep it alive.
Now, with a new director, board members and budget of about $3.5 million, there is no funding for lobbyists, meaning there is no organized opposition to the bill.
Dr. Stephen Martin, a new board member who also runs the county's health department, said the county "can integrate TB care with other services" to provide better overall care for patients.
Last week, state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) led a 59-0 passage through the Senate, and state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), chairwoman of the House rules committee where the bill now sits, said she's optimistic it will pass this time. "I don't know of any opposition," she said. "So that should mean we have a pretty good start."


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