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Stroger budget would cut health clinics, 450 jobs

Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger today unveiled a $3 billion budget proposal that would hold the line on 2007 spending by closing 16 community health care clinics, cutting about 450 full-time county workers and forcing other reductions from reluctant law enforcement leaders.

The budget plan, which now goes to the 17-member board for hearings, does not include any tax or fee increases, officials said. The county has posted the budget on its Web site.
Stroger, who was elected in November to the seat held for years by his father, John Stroger, vowed to close a $500 million projected deficit without raising taxes.

"This budget reduces overall spending while simultaneously absorbing unavoidable spending pressures and swallowing huge reductions in various county revenue sources," Stroger said during a 16-minute budget address. "In short, this budget plan contains substantial spending reductions throughout county government."

The budget eliminates 1,492 full-time positions throughout the government. About 30 percent of those positions are currently filled, Budget Director Donna Dunnings said.

Spending in the county's enormous health system will be reduced by $103 million, bringing it to $730 million, from the 2006 appropriation.

Dr. Robert Simon, interim chief of the health bureau, declined to go into much detail during a press briefing Tuesday after Stroger's budget address, saying he first wanted to make his presentation to commissioners later this month.

Simon did say that of the county's 26 community health clinics, 10 would remain open.

Simon said underutilized clinics, which he did not identify, would be closed and that hours and staffing would be expanded at the remaining sites to handle an increased work load. He repeated his earlier warnings that patients could expect longer lines, at least in the short term as the system is restructured.

Simon also said babies would no longer be delivered at Provident Hospital. Expectant mothers would instead be transferred to Stroger Hospital, which has seen its deliveries drop significantly in recent years, Simon said.

Elsewhere in the county, State's Attorney Richard Devine's five community prosecution offices and a community outreach unit are targeted for elimination. Devine said that he could lose 75 prosecutors as well as other personnel but that he will fight for more funding before the county board.

In the sheriff's office, Stroger's budget team proposed eliminating the $1.6 million community services department. Stroger said it was part of an effort to return the county to its "core mission," and eliminate extraneous programs.

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