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TB District: Your money at waste

Thursday, August 26, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
by Anthony J. Peraica
Letter to the Editor

In recent months debate on the long-term survival of the Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District has led to much controversy and confusion. This was only exacerbated when an ''independent'' review team came out in favor of keeping the district open. In its defense of the district, the review team emphasizes that TB is still a very real threat to public safety, and without its watchful eye there would be ''unfathomable'' costs to society.

The only factor standing in the way of this assessment is reality. As the threat of TB has waned In recent decades, so too has the usefulness of the TB District. What once was an indispensable institution in the fight against a dreaded disease has become a poster child for waste and inefficiency. Against this backdrop I would like to highlight the flaws in the report.

First, the report cites the relatively small number of TB cases in Cook County and tries to credit the district for this. The report fails to mention that because of the tremendous advances in modern medicine TB is no longer as prevalent. For example, the TB District treated 130 new active cases in 2002 -- down from 168 in 1992 and 184 in 1982. As the evidence demonstrates, the number of persons afflicted with the disease has been declining each year, making the work of the district largely redundant and unnecessary. Yet, each year the TB District levies and spends $6 million of taxpayer money.

According to a study by the Civic Federation, an independent tax watchdog group, the district has $9.2 million in its fund, almost 215 percent more than in its annual operating cost, on top of $15 million from the sale of taxpayer-owned property in Hinsdale, yet it continues to request more property tax money. Suburban Cook County residents can also expect to see an additional property tax levy request for the district.

The report disparages the objectivity of the Civic Federation. However, if there is a bias, it is on the part of those who prepared the report in defense of the TB District: The ''independent'' review team was paid $25,000 by the TB District to conduct the examination.

The same team that wrote the report states there has not been a particular plan to transfer the TB treatment duties to another agency, and this allegedly confirms that there is a political motivation by those who discredit the district. However, plans for what will transpire in the aftermath of the district already have been introduced in the General Assembly. One of the bills specifically calls for the transfer of the district's services into the county's Public Health Department, while retaining most of the TB District's employees and clinics.

An objective analysis of the current situation dictates that the residents of Cook County be rid of this institution. While dissolving the TB District will not spell the end of government waste, it will be an important first step in providing the residents of Cook County with a leaner, more efficient government.

Anthony J. Peraica,
Cook County Commissioner 16th District



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