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Cook has ideas for cash. Commissioners eye new fees, sale of land.

Saturday, February 03, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Hoping to stave off service cuts, Cook County commissioners are eyeing a number of ways to raise new revenue, including selling county-owned land around Oak Forest Hospital in the south suburbs.

"I think we have to do what we're telling everyone else to do: be creative and look for other revenue options," said Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park).

Commissioners are grappling with the $3 billion budget for 2007 proposed by Board President Todd Stroger.

Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) estimated that more than 200 acres of county-owned land around Oak Forest Hospital could be sold, generating millions. Several commissioners said they were open to the idea.

Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood), whose district includes the hospital, said she frequently receives calls from developers interested in the property, on the south side of 159th Street from Cicero Avenue to Pulaski Road.

"That land is prime," said Murphy, who hopes to prevent the layoffs and service cuts Stroger has proposed.

Hearings on the budget proposal concluded Friday with an appearance by Sheriff Tom Dart, who suggested to the Finance Committee that some fees be raised.

Dart said raising fees for electronic monitoring and car towing could generate an additional $5 million. Some fees also could be charged to detainees at the Cook County Jail and deducted from their commissary accounts, which last year saw total deposits of $5.7 million.

Board members expressed interest in Dart's ideas and several have plans to seek other fee increases, such as for off-track betting and environmental impact, as they try to close a projected $500 million budget hole by Feb. 28 without raising property taxes.

Quigley said the board could raise up to $20 million through fees. "These are legitimate means for a government to raise money," Quigley said. "They're almost literally user fees. They just need to be market rate, along the lines of what most governments do."


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