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5 bills aim at eradicating county's TB district

Monday, January 19, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times

The Suburban Cook County Tuberculosis Sanitarium District will be no more if one of five bills, part of County Commissioner Mike Quigley's reform agenda, passes the General Assembly.

The district was created in 1947 to combat the once deadly disease, but critics say it has outlived its usefulness and costs too much, so they want to fold its services into the county's Public Health Department.

"It is an unnecessary body that is taxing suburban residents," said Laurence Msall, president of the watchdog group Civic Federation, which supports getting rid of the district. Homeowners pay $2 to $3 in property taxes a year to support it.

There is "a lot of antiquated government," Quigley said. "You just don't need some of these districts."

District officials argue their services are still relevant, although they said they haven't had enough time to develop a response to proposals.

"Unfortunately, people don't realize the number of patients we see and the services we provide," said James Gallai, executive vice president of field operations for the district. He said there were 110,000 visits to the district's clinics last year. The district treats about 130 cases of TB a year.

The services could be more cheaply provided by Public Health, said state Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who introduced three Senate bills to dissolve the district. Similar legislation was also introduced by state Rep. Kevin Joyce (D-Worth) and state Rep. Eileen Lyons (R-Western Springs).

"We are looking at anything we can do to save the county money," Cullerton said. "There will be savings in consolidation." Legislation is needed to get rid of the district because it was created by the General Assembly.

Streamlining services is necessary, according to Quigley, who said the bill was one of 15 reform packages he hopes will make county government more efficient.

Cook County Board President John Stroger also supports getting rid of the district.

Besides calling the district inefficient, the Civic Federation says it costs homeowners. According to a study it conducted, the district has $9.2 million in its fund, almost 215 percent more than its annual operating cost, yet continues to request property tax money.

"Suburban Cook residents will see an additional property tax levy for this district, even though they don't need the money and they don't use the money," Msall said.

The money isn't simply "sloshing" around the district, Gallai said. "We use those funds for future capital expenses. These days it costs a lot of money to build a new clinic."

The district already owns Suburban Hospital in Hinsdale, which used to house quarantined TB patients and is now leased out, and holds clinics in four locations. TB sufferers are now treated as outpatients.

Some have criticized the federation's report as political, saying County Commissioner Tony Perica assisted in researching the report after a bitter Republican primary against Al Carr, the father of Terrance Carr, the district's president.

But, Msall said the group is only concerned with government waste.

This isn't the first time the district has been in the news recently. The county is suing it to prevent the sale of land around Suburban Hospital, which county officials want turned over to the Forest Preserve District in an ongoing dispute.

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