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Cook County budget, finances leave some scratching their heads

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

If you're asked to approve a change to a budget at midyear, but still don't have the original budget, can you really approve changes? That was the question Cook County Board commissioners found themselves asking Tuesday as they gathered for the annual task of midyear appropriations, the process by which certain departments that are over or under budget either return money or ask for more to get them through the year. The process is always confusing, but this year, several commissioners said it was nearly impossible because President Todd H. Stroger's budget department has yet to release the final 2008 budget, more than six months into the budget year. "It's far more difficult to try to analyze this when you don't have that final appropriation bill," said Commissioner Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat. "Some of this doesn't make sense." In the end, commissioners trusted administrators with their re-appropriations. Budget Director Jarese Wilson promised commissioners she'd supply them an original appropriations bill by month's end. Commissioners have never in recent history been asked to approve transfers without a budget. County CFO Donna Dunnings said the delay is due, in part, to a June 1 cost-of-living increase that the budget department still needs to reconcile. Other items in this year's transfer bill that raised commissioners' eyebrows included the fact that the county's biggest hospital, John H. Stroger Hospital, submitted no transfer requests, indicating it has enough money for the year despite having indicated all year its revenue projections on patient bill collections were falling far short of expectations. Cook County finance committee Chairman John Daley said his staff and Wilson's staff double-checked with health bureau administrators to verify the hospital needs no additional funds, and he confirmed none were needed. "The hospital was very clear that they do not need it," said Daley. "So they will be judged accordingly."

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