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No-tax-hike stance may be softening
County seeks ways to fund critical services

Monday, February 05, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

A Cook County Board that began its budget season determined not to increase taxes has since collided with an unprecedented public outcry over massive cuts proposed by board President Todd Stroger.
Now the County Board is scrambling to find money to stave off cuts to health care and public safety, whether it means increasing fees and taxes, or selling off county property.
"There's no other way," Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno said.
Still others, like Commissioner Tony Peraica, say there are plenty of other ways to balance the $3 billion budget and save vital programs without increasing spending.
"There've been a lot of scare tactics and doom-and-gloom scenarios, with people talking about these high-button, emotional issues," he said. "But there's adequate money. It just needs to be better managed."
Areas that would be hurt
Beginning this week, the County Board will begin introducing amendments to restore programs. Nothing appears to be off-limits to pay for it, with the board refusing to bear the weight of heavy public criticism over Stroger's cuts.
Money has already been discovered to reinstate the Access to Care health program and the jail-diversion program for women, after substantial outcry over their eliminations.
Other high-profile programs that could be cut include:
•   •   Inpatient surgery and OB/GYN programs at Provident Hospital. Those services would no longer be available at the South Side facility, instead moving to Stroger Hospital.
•   •   Clinics. With 14 clinics closing, including all school-based clinics, there are concerns about patients who are transferred being pushed to the bottom of long waiting lists at existing clinics.
•   •   Long-term care at Oak Forest Hospital. A wing that has essentially become a nursing home would be closed, with patients possibly moved to private facilities or with families.
•   •   Infertility programs would be eliminated and plastic surgery reduced, as hospital chief Dr. Robert Simon says he'll prioritize the 13,000 women waiting for a diagnostic mammogram and 5,000 more patients waiting for colonoscopies.
•   •   Child-protection hearing officers would be gutted in the chief judge's office. They provide guidance to judges deciding where kids are placed. That's in addition to fewer victim-witness assistants providing guidance to those standing up to their attackers.
•   •   The elimination of 100 assistant state's attorneys, and public defenders working four-day workweeks. The impact on trials and delays in the criminal justice system would be noticeable, they say.
•   •   Also noticeable will be 236 fewer courtroom deputies, a concern among judges.
•   •   Closing of 24-hour lockups in Maywood and Markham would leave those arrested handcuffed at a police station until morning court hearings.
•   •   100 fewer officers patrolling unincorporated areas means fewer officers to assist Ford Heights, which has no officers on two entire shifts, and other suburbs. Sheriff Tom Dart says cuts will also affect the bomb squad, sex-offender unit and others.


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