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Cook County deficit climbing -- for next year

Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Steve Patterson

Not even a month after the Cook County Board made massive cuts to pass a $3 billion budget, next year's deficit already is in the millions.
Cigarette sales, collection of hospital-patient fees and fees from recording property deeds all are lower than county officials anticipated when balancing this year's budget, according to records released Monday.
But the shortage is nothing like what was seen last year, and given that it's just three months into the county's fiscal year, nobody's hitting the panic button yet.
"It's pretty hard to say whether we're in a good position or bad position yet," county comptroller Joseph Fratto said. "We need to give it a bit more time."
Wary commissioners, however, are cautiously going over numbers that show $3 million shortfalls each in recorder and hospital fees and a $1.8 million shortage in cigarette sales-tax revenue.
The county had lowered its expectations for cigarette sales from $223 million expected last year to $175 million this year, but it's falling short of that mark already.
Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), chairman of the county board's finance committee, wasn't alarmed by the numbers but said the recorder's shortfall "is unusual, and we're going to have to address it."
Recorder Gene Moore did not return calls Monday, but Fratto said that drop is likely based on slow home sales.
Collection of hospital fees are low, but nothing like the nearly $100 million deficit seen last year -- an improvement that Fratto chalked up to changes being implemented by hospital leaders Robert Simon and Thomas Glaser.
"We're pretty optimistic we're never going to see a situation like last year's again," Fratto said.


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