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Preckwinkle: Halt 'nonessential' spending
Board president suggests saving on hospital renovations

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Monday put the brakes on a host of "nonessential" projects and services in a move she estimated could save tens of millions of dollars during the current budget year.

The moratorium will last until the board in late February approves a 2011 budget, Preckwinkle said. Between now and then, the county will determine which contracts can be deferred, eliminated or changed to save money.

"We won't spend like the county did in the past," Preckwinkle said about her executive order, which comes one week after she took office. "We're creating a process to review, defer, restructure and even eliminate all ill-advised contracts and wasteful spending that marked the previous administration."

Preckwinkle's announcement came as she grapples with an estimated shortfall of more than $480 million in the 2011 budget year, which began Dec. 1. She has until the end of January to submit a balanced budget.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group, called the moratorium "a reasonable step by a newly elected executive, especially one who faces an enormous budget challenge."

Attached to the moratorium is a list of 96 approved projects expected to cost $495 million and 85 planned projects yet to be approved that total $191 million, but it does not say which are essential.

Preckwinkle and her chief of staff, Kurt Summers Jr., noted three that could be altered to save money.

One is the proposed $126 million renovation of the old Cook County Hospital.

"I'm a big preservationist, and I think it's a beautiful, old building, and we're going to save it," she said. "The question is only how it makes sense to renovate it and use it."

Other proposed projects to be evaluated are the $92 million renovation of the Fantus Health Center near Stroger Hospital and the $50 million renovation of the Stroger Hospital parking garage. Preckwinkle said an upgrade of Fantus was "desperately" needed.


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