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Preckwinkle hopes to boost city-suburban cooperation

Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Daily Herald
by Melissa Silverberg

In an effort to create more economic collaboration between the city and the suburbs, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday that the three workforce boards around the county will be combined into one.

Preckwinkle announced the change while speaking to more than 150 members of nine suburban chambers of commerce in Palatine, where she was embraced as a welcome change from her predecessor, who was not popular in the suburbs.

“She's not Todd Stroger,” said Jon Ridler, executive director of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.

Members from Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Rolling Meadows, Wheeling/Prospect Heights and Palatine chambers of commerce attended the breakfast speech, at which Preckwinkle discussed efforts to promote economic development across the county.

Those efforts include combining the workforce boards, which provide job assistance and training programs for unemployed county residents.

Preckwinkle said that during the economic downturn it's important for Chicago and its suburban areas to work together.

“Economies don't stop at our municipal boundaries,” she said, calling Cook County the economic hub of the Midwest.

Many of the attendees said having Preckwinkle visit the suburbs at all is progress.

“It's a step in the right direction — we need more tweaks and answers,” said Linda Liles Ballantine, executive director of the Rolling Meadows Chamber of Commerce. “Slow but sure, but at least there's a dialogue going on.”

Preckwinkle said her office is dedicated to responsible spending and figuring out how much it costs to provide government services.

Another efficiency that Preckwinkle promoted Wednesday was the closing of weekend bond calls at suburban courthouses, which she said will save the county money.

But the plan has drawn opposition from suburban police departments, which say having their officers drive detainees to Chicago for weekend court takes patrols off local streets, leaving gaps in coverage that will need to be filled with overtime from others.

Several chamber leaders also expressed concern about the Cook County sales tax, which Preckwinkle said she will help roll back another .25 percent by the end of 2012. That will return the tax to its level before the 2008 hike backed by Stroger.

“Even if we reduce it down to what it was, it's still too high,” said Cliff Higley, president of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.

Moving forward, Preckwinkle issued a summer challenge to each of the chambers.

“Think about how you can provide summer jobs for young people in your community, and then actually do it,” she said, adding that getting teens into the workforce reduces violence and stimulates the economy.

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