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County Board approves $150 million stopgap loan

Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger cast a rare tiebreaking vote Tuesday on a measure to borrow $150 million—a stopgap he said was needed to keep the county financially afloat until proceeds from a county sales tax increase flow into government coffers. The short-term loan, which county commissioners figured they would need when they passed a budget in February, will cost taxpayers as much as $9 million in interest and fees and be paid back by December 2009, the Stroger administration said.  Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D- Evanston)—who voted for the preliminary borrowing resolution and sales tax increase at the end of February—opposed the loan Tuesday, saying the county had enough money to stay afloat. "This is not the time to be doing this," Suffredin said, noting a percentage-point boost in the county sales tax that was part of the $3 billion budget package. "I think this is a slap in the face of the people who are going to be paying the sales taxes starting July 1."

Commissioners voted 8-8 on the borrowing plan, then Stroger voted for it. Although shoppers will start paying the higher sales tax July 1, the county won't get any additional revenue from the state, which collects the tax from retailers, until October. The county's fiscal year concludes at the end of November. The county expects to get $426 million in new revenue during the first full year the higher tax is collected. Suffredin said he also is concerned because commissioners were not told what the exact interest rate or fees for the borrowing plan will be or which bond firms will get the business.

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