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Commissioners grade Stroger's budget incomplete

Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger proposed a $3 billion budget Tuesday that cuts staff and avoids a tax increase, but one commissioner attacked it as a "phony document" because many spending choices haven't been made.
In his budget address to the county board, Stroger said he had completed his "legal responsibility" by proposing a budget that closed the county's $502 million budget gap "without fiscal gimmicks."
But while the budget slices $112 million from the general fund, about $107 million of those cuts aren't identified. They're just listed by department under the heading "targeted adjustment."
Although Stroger said in his budget address that only 1,492 jobs would be cut, far fewer than originally feared, officials admitted later the final number almost certainly will be higher.
"This would appear to be not a complete budget document if it has cuts to be determined later," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago). "If that's the case, then it's not a budget presentation at all but a phony document."
Even some commissioners who have been working with Stroger on the budget said it was incomplete.
"I don't know how you can pass a budget without those items being specified," Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) said.
The county's chief financial officer, Tom Glaser, defended the use of adjustments, saying it was necessary given the short time Stroger and his top advisers have had to tackle a complex issue. The budget must be approved by Feb. 28.
"It's a complete budget in the sense that it's balanced. Our revenue estimates are congruent with our expenditures," Glaser said. "That is all the appropriation that anyone is going to be able to spend."
Glaser said county officials will be asked to choose where they want to make those additional cuts, and budget officials will do it if they refuse. Some additional layoffs are certain, he said.
Those cuts will come on top of reductions already listed in the budget, which include closing health clinics, ending some hospital services and reducing the number of county prosecutors.
Stroger had pushed for a 17 percent across-the-board cut for weeks, but the final budget cuts total spending by only 2.3 percent.
Still, some officials complained their offices would be required to cut critical services.
"These cuts would have a devastating effect on day-to-day service," said Sheriff Tom Dart's spokeswoman, Sally Daly. "We're extremely concerned about the underfunding of all our major departments."
About 10 percent of the cuts would come in unpaid furlough days for county employees, which union officials already have agreed to, budget director Donna Dunnings said. But some unions planned to protest and said they had agreed to nothing yet.
Besides cuts, the budget is balanced on $150 million saved through refinancing the county's debt and a $43 million expected increase in patient fees. That last estimate also worried commissioners, who have watched the county fail to meet its budgeted revenue in patient fees for two years running.
"This budget doesn't make sense," Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) said. "This is taking smoke and mirrors to a new level here."

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