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County OKs non-union pay hike
Source of funding still under dispute

Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County commissioners unanimously approved pay raises Tuesday for prosecutors and other non-union workers, but the harmony quickly disintegrated over how the increases would be funded.

Board President Todd Stroger and some commissioners said higher taxes would be required next year, while others said the county has a long way to go to make its operations more efficient.

"This county needs to go on a diet," said Commissioner Timothy Schneider (R-Bartlett). "You can't just keep throwing money at a spoiled little kid and expect him to get better. You've got to change his behavior."

But Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno (D-Chicago) said the county already cut spending drastically this year and that board members who voted for the pay raises but wouldn't support new taxes were "talking out of both sides of their mouth."

"If you're supporting this, you must support new revenues," Moreno said.

Stroger said he hopes to release his 2008 budget proposal in October. He ruled out increasing property taxes but said he would have to meet with his finance team before he would say what taxes he would consider.

"When you're talking about numbers that we're talking about ... there's no way you can talk about that without talking about a tax increase," Stroger said.

Increases in wages and benefits for the county's workforce -- union and non-union -- will raise expenses next year by $113 million.

The pay raises were the result of assistant state's attorneys pressing for increases, arguing they made on average less than their unionized counterparts in the public defender's office.

Under the agreement, the assistant state's attorneys as well as lawyers in the county's public guardian office will receive 8 percent cost-of-living raises retroactive to 2004 and a $500 bonus. The county's other non-union workers will receive a 3 percent raise retroactive to June 1 plus a $1,000 bonus.

In addition, all non-union employees will receive the same 4.75 percent cost-of-living raise in 2008 as the county's unionized work force.

Also Tuesday, some board members and community ministers used the occasion to urge State's Atty. Richard Devine to hire more African-American lawyers for his office.

Devine said 7.2 percent of his assistant state's attorneys are African-American, higher than the percentage of African-Americans coming out of law schools. Devine said increasing diversity in his office remains an important goal.

Also Tuesday, the County Board agreed to hire Earl Dunlap, a national expert in juvenile justice, as the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center's transitional administrator to avoid a court-monitored receiver.

The agreement is expected to be presented to a federal judge next Tuesday for approval.

The American Civil Liberties Union had sought a receiver to run the center, citing numerous problems that have persisted under the board president's oversight.

Earlier this year, Stroger agreed to hand the center over to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, but that move has not yet occurred.

Also Tuesday, the Stroger administration introduced its $140 million proposal to reuse the old Cook County Hospital for doctors' offices, administrative staff and other medical uses. The measure was sent to committee.

In other business, the board approved Stroger's proposal to strengthen the office of the inspector general. Among the changes will be a six-year term for the inspector general and the ability to investigate any county office, including those of other elected officials.

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