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County board members: Budget estimate way off
Moore accused of 'historical tradition' of underestimating money coming in

Friday, January 28, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County Board members accused a county official Thursday of low-balling the amount of money he expects to collect in fees this year.
Under pressure from the board at a finance meeting, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore agreed to increase his office's estimate of fees collected in 2005 from $66 million to $70 million.

Commissioners didn't like the original projection because Moore collected almost $81 million in fees in 2004.

"How can you justify your revenues at 20 percent below 2004?" said Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (D-Chicago). "Why did you have to be so exceptionally conservative?"

Members of the finance committee have been working all week to close a $73 million budget gap while avoiding tax increases proposed by President John Stroger.

The committee has asked all elected county officials to cut 2 percent of their proposed budgets. Moore said he had already cut his budget by 27 percent from last year, although the county's published budget shows an 18 percent reduction.

But the recorder's office is also the single-largest source of income for the county's general fund.

Moore's budget director, Deputy Recorder Darlena Williams-Burnett, told commissioners she expected the office to collect $75 million in 2005, even though only $66 million was budgeted.

That prompted Commissioners Deborah Sims (D-Chicago) and Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) to ask why she hadn't told the budget office the numbers had changed.

Williams-Burnett said she didn't want to file a formal change in the budget "because we just don't know what the real estate industry is going to produce."

Committee chairman John Daley pressed Moore and Williams-Burnett for a direct answer, and Williams-Burnett said $70 million would be "a conservative estimate."

Maldonado said later he thought Moore was bowing to a "historical tradition" in Cook County to underestimate the amount of money coming in.

"They're all afraid that if they make projections and then they fall short, the world is going to end," Maldonado said. "This has to stop ... why force the county board to make cuts?"

Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) said the county still needs to make cuts. One of several commissioners who has been pressing for budget reform, Quigley said Moore's last-minute change demonstrated the county was using a "revenue estimate dartboard" instead of scientifically predicting income.

"The fact is that their revenue estimates are so off, but the commissioners are taking this as an opportunity to balance the budget using funny money," Quigley said. "That's dangerous."

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