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Suburban TB sanitarium slams proposal to close it

Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times

The Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District is fighting for its life, defending its spending of property taxes and taking shots at those who say it has outlived its usefulness.

A report to be released today will blast efforts to abolish the district and fold it into the Cook County Department of Public Health, saying those who are pushing for such a move are driven by politics, not public health needs.

The study, paid for by the TB district and done by TB experts, criticizes the Civic Federation, a taxpayer watchdog group calling for its elimination, citing egregious spending by the district.

The study will also show its "unbiased" auditors were met with a lack of cooperation by city, county and state health officials, in trying to gather comparative data. Still, it will conclude suburban county taxpayers should continue to pay a separate property tax line item to support TB programs outside of those already done by the county.

District officials won't talk about the report until it is approved by its board today. But Scott Metcalf, of the Civic Federation, said criticism at them is misplaced, as they are "motivated by our interest in rational tax policy and the efficient delivery of government services," not politics.

Last year, 123 new cases of TB were reported in suburban Cook County, joining 2,691 existing cases, but taxpayers paid $6 million to support district operations.

"Why does TB deserve a specific property tax levy when West Nile virus and AIDS don't have dedicated tax levies?" Metcalf asked.

Sean McDermott, director of the county health department's public policy, hopes state legislators will abolish the district, as "we already have . . . responsibility for 65 other diseases. That's what we do and we're darned good at it."

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