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In Todd Stroger's absence, Palatine talks of removing itself from Cook County
About 100 people attend special meeting, where focus on high county taxes shifts to secession

Thursday, May 01, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Jeff Long

Despite the absence of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, about 100 people turned out for a special meeting of the Palatine Village Council on Wednesday, where discussion of high county taxes soon turned to talk of secession.

"I'd like to congratulate all of you in taking this courageous step in finally fighting this unbelievably corrupt Cook County," resident Roman Golash, 58, told the council.

The County Board, Golash said, "is just always raising the taxes, higher and higher."

Palatine officials last month called on Stroger to personally explain his $426 million-a-year tax hike and asked the village manager and village attorney to look into ways Palatine might secede from the county.

Stroger had originally said he would attend the meeting but backed out Tuesday. In a statement explaining his decision, he said the meeting's format would diminish "the ability of the community to voice their concerns and instead allows for political grandstanding by Village Council members."

Palatine's frustration with Stroger comes from the 1 percentage-point sales tax hike the County Board recently approved. Some northwestern Cook County suburbs worry it will harm their businesses.

By early July, when both the county sales tax hike and a 0.25 percentage point increase for the RTA will be in effect, Palatine's sales-tax rate will be 10 percent. Across the border in some Lake County communities, it will be 7 percent.

Palatine officials had expected a much larger turnout at Wednesday's meeting and had made plans to accommodate an overflow crowd at Harper College's Wojcik Conference Center. But without Stroger to answer questions, the smaller audience heard more general talk about the burdens of new taxes.

"It's like we declared war and no one showed up," quipped council member Mike Jezierski.

Despite talk of secession, it has not yet become a serious proposal. Even one of Stroger's harshest critics on the Palatine council,
Jack Wagner, said much more information is needed.

But then Wagner told the audience, "It might be time to start looking at it."

Only one County Board member attended, Republican Tony Peraica, who did not hesitate to add his own sharp criticism of Stroger.

"I think it's unfortunate that he did not show the respect that the people of the northwest suburbs deserve," Peraica said. "The County of Cook is beginning to be known nationwide as 'crook' county . . . and there's good reason for that."

Palatine residents and business customers now pay close to $14 million a year in various county taxes, according the village manager's office. Village officials project that Palatine taxpayers will contribute about $4.2 million more next year to the county.

Stroger has said that many county services are less evident than the roads and acres of forest preserve that it maintains in Palatine: administering justice through the courts and jails, for example, and delivering health care to low-income residents.

"Protecting the health, safety and well-being of residents in the area provides a larger form of social welfare that saves dollars over the long term and helps preserve and improve quality of life for local residents," says a report generated by Stroger's office.

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