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Stroger's no-show doesn't go over well
Residents unload on county president during budget hearing in Skokie

Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff

Furious suburbanites berated an absent Todd Stroger at county budget hearings Tuesday night in Skokie, criticizing him almost as much for not having the courage to face them as for planning to raise their sales taxes 266 percent.
"I tried contacting President Stroger many times. They put me through (to his office on the phone), but they never picked up," Carl Mitsakopoulos said. "He's not here tonight; he's hiding. That's disgusting and sad."
"In honor of Halloween, someone should be wearing a Stroger mask, because all he does is hide from the public," Mark Sulkin said.
"I think it's a slap in the face that Mr. Stroger could not show up here this evening." Caroline Dick said.
In retrospect, Stroger may have done the wise thing staying away from the Cook County courthouse in Skokie. It was clear the natives were restless from the moment the meeting started when county board secretary Matt DeLeon was interrupted mid-sentence as he introduced the commissioners present.
"Where's Mr Stroger, please!" barked an elderly man in a yellow jacket.
DeLeon said he would try to find out. A representative told a reporter Stroger was planning to attend.
But by the end of the meeting, the president still had not shown up -- although commissioners from districts far from Skokie, such as Jerry Butler and Robert Steele, managed to make it.
Stroger did show up to a budget hearing in the South suburbs last week at Oak Forest Hospital. Spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi said the president was not forum shopping, attending hearings only in areas that largely support his proposed tax increase.
"That's not it at all," said Antongiorgi, who did not say exactly where the president was Tuesday night.
"I know he had a lot of different meetings going on," she said. "He wants to make it to all of (the budget hearings)."
Frustrated they could not vent to the president directly, many of those in attendance unloaded on county commissioners, many of whom don't support Stroger's proposed increase.
Richard Auer owns Prospect Citgo at 1500 N. River Road in Mount Prospect. He bemoaned the planned doubling of the county gas tax from $.06 per gallon to $.12.
"Go over on Lake-Cook Road and just see what (business) comes into Lake County" from people escaping Cook County taxes, Auer said. "You don't think people will drive a mile to save 16, 18 cents? I'm out of here. I'm done. I don't want to live in this county any more. … New York (gas prices are) cheaper than us. … What are you guys doing with all this money?"
Barbara Van Slambrouck, president of Chromatech Printing in Des Plaines, pleaded with commissioners not to raise the county sales tax. Already, she pointed out, DuPage offers sales taxes 1.75 percentage points lower, which encourages some of her customers to get their printing done there.
"It's very difficult for us to compete against some of the collar county printers. … If you add 2 percent on to our taxes, customers will be more apt to go to DuPage," she said.
"Actually, I do that myself," confessed Van Slambrouck, who said she buys some of her business supplies in DuPage County to save money. "I don't want to do it, but our margins are low."
Not everyone was hostile to Stroger's tax increases. At least half the speakers approved of them and pointed out the need for continued county health services. But many of those speaking in favor the tax increase were county employees or were patients of Provident Hospital on Chicago's South Side. By and large, the speakers who identified themselves as being from the North and Northwest suburbs opposed the tax hike.
Business owner Brian Burkross of Des Plaines said he understood and supported funding public health care. Burkross noted he recently had to let his own health insurance lapse.
Stroger Hospital, he said, "has to stay around."
But, he added, he believed county officials could keep health care going and cut elsewhere. Nobody likes cuts, he noted, but it was something he had to do as a business owner.
"If I ran my corporation like you people run Cook County, I'd be bankrupt a long time ago," Burkross said.


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