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MetroSouth tax break push shelved
Officials studying other options

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
by Maura Possley

A push before the Cook County Board to reduce the property tax burden for a for-profit Blue Island hospital has been postponed indefinitely.

An ordinance to change MetroSouth Medical Center's designation with the Cook County assessor to lower the hospital's tax bill by as much as $1 million was delayed by its sponsor, Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood).

The matter had been slated to be discussed by the county board's finance committee today until Murphy withdrew it from consideration, saying additional time would allow her to bring a proposal with full support behind it.

The hospital is facing its first property tax bill - at approximately $2 million - since taking over and renaming the not-for-profit St. Francis Hospital, which nearly closed in summer 2008. The hospital previously had been exempt from paying property taxes.

Murphy declined to detail what opposition caused the delay but said the specific ordinance could be abandoned for other ideas being discussed by officials.

"We want to make sure once this happens, it happens," she said. "We're trying to find the best way to do it that will help everybody. The best way to do this is what we're kind of stuck on now."

Critics have charged the ordinance singled out one institution for preferential tax treatment. They say it could result in other hospitals coming to the county and asking for similar tax breaks.

Murphy disagreed, saying details in the ordinance prevented such an outcome. Stipulations state only hospitals that turned from not-for-profit to for-profit status and are in an area of where 10 percent or more of the population lives below the poverty level could qualify.

"How many people are going to buy a hospital in this economy?" the commissioner said. "Maybe it would be a big stampede but I just don't see it."

Murphy said that while the ordinance would lower the hospital's annual tax payment, that still added up to newfound money for the county and city of Blue Island. Also, the hospital's growing number of primary care clinics would be taxed separately, she said.

Blue Island Mayor Don Peloquin said legal questions and a reluctance from the county assessor's office to oversee the change played a part in the delay.

Peloquin planned to work with his staff to create other alternatives, in part based on ideas from the assessor's office and Cook County Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), who chairs the board's finance committee.

"Now we have to go back to the table and look at it again," Peloquin said. "There's ways of getting it done."

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