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County's deficit hits $40 million

Saturday, August 05, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Cook County's budget deficit is at its worst point yet, and despite repeated demands made on county hospitals to collect more money, their deficits are growing.

Records released Friday show the county's current deficit is at $40 million and worsening. That's on top of the $300 million hole officials say must be filled in the 2007 budget.

And though commissioners have been prodding county hospital officials to collect more patient fees, the hospitals are showing their greatest shortfall yet in patient fees.

As of June 30, county hospitals had collected $54.6 million less in patient fees than what the county was expecting.

In June alone, records show the hospitals were $40 million short of projections -- more than four times December's $9.3 million shortfall and the worst seen yet this year.

Commissioner Gregg Goslin, who like others has heard repeated promises from hospital officials that they'll soon be turning things around, now wants hospital finance chief Alvin Holley fired.

"He's got to go," Goslin (R-Glenview) said. "They're not going to pay attention until they get hit in the nose. They need to be hit in the nose."

Holley did not return a call.

'We're working on it'

Goslin wants to see 1,000 jobs cut from the top-heavy Bureau of Health, saying there's been a $1 billion shortfall in bureau operations alone over the past three years.

Stroger Hospital is bleeding worst of all, falling $12 million short in June, up from a $1 million shortfall in December.

Just hours after taking office this week, County Board President Bobbie Steele pointed to the health bureau as an area where jobs need to be consolidated to save money.

Through a spokeswoman Friday, Steele said she's aware of the growing deficit and "we're working on it."

Former President John Stroger long resisted change at the patronage-laden bureau, even ignoring a mandate from the board that certain jobs be consolidated this year.

Also Friday, records showed a continuing shortfall in cigarette and gasoline sales in the heavily taxed county, even though June saw near-record revenues from both areas.

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