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Ten weeks after it's passed, there's still no county budget

Thursday, May 08, 2008

More than 10 weeks after the Cook County Board passed its spending plan and nearly six months after the fiscal year began, Cook County residents still have no access to the budget.
Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) expressed his frustration with the lengthy wait for a final budget.
“I think it is business as usual, unfortunately,” Quigley said. “We’re going to be half-way through the year and the budget should be ready.”
Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said the budget may be slowed by the revision process, during which budget officials make sure duplications or contradictions are resolved. However, that usually only takes a month, he said, and the current wait is excessively long.
“For some reason it seems to be taking forever to get it,” he said.
Officials at the Department of Budget and Management Services, which is responsible for compiling the final budget, refused to comment on why the process was taking so long, refused to identify themselves, and refused to say when the final budget would be available for the public.
The office referred all inquiries to the president’s public affairs officials, who were unable to answer specifics about why the budget was taking so long.
“All the numbers have to be reconciled,” said County Board President Todd Stroger’s press secretary Ibis Antongiorgi, though she could not give a firm date for when the budget would be available or why it has taken more than two months. Antongiorgi said she would have to contact the budget director, Jarese Wilson, to get specifics.
Stroger also said he had no idea why the budget has not been completed.
“I can’t answer that, so I won’t even pretend,” Stroger said at a press conference held to announce his nine nominations for a panel to take control of the bureau of health. “I will say that whenever we finalize the budget, whenever anyone finalizes the budget it does take a while to get the whole budget put together.”
The county’s Web site has a copy of the president’s budget recommendations and the floor amendments that were submitted during the finance committee debates; however, there is no copy of the county final spending plan for fiscal year 2008, including changes made during the revision process.
Heather O’Donnell, a policy director at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and one of Stroger’s selections for the health panel, said the lack of a final budget plan makes it difficult for her to hold the county to account.
“It makes our job impossible,” she said. “The key to our job is information.”
Lise Valentine, vice president of the Civic Federation, a non-partisan watchdog group, said that the complexity of the budget makes it understandable that it takes so long. However, she said she is disappointed that there are no citizen-friendly budget documents on the county Web site.
“I would ask at a minimum that they would have a shorter version of it for the public,” she said.
At the end of February, the County Board approved a budget moments before the legal deadline, which included a controversial tax increase in the county sales tax, raising it from .75 to 1.75.

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