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Preckwinkle Pushing For New Fees, Tax Hikes

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle delivers her 2012 budget address. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 10/25/11 11:21 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has proposed a first-ever fee for parking at the county’s criminal courthouses, as well as a $150 fee on residents of unincorporated areas for county police protection as part of her budget plan for next year.

“I’ve kept my word,” Preckwinkle said as she introduced her budget proposal Tuesday morning. “There’s been nothing easy about this, but we’re taking steps in the right direction. In the budget proposal presented to you today, we’ve solved a $315 million gap. In less than a year in office, we’ve managed to save our taxpayers $800 million in government spending. While we had a smaller deficit last year, in many ways, this is toughest budget the county has had to face.”

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, Preckwinkle is also looking to 1,000 layoffs as well as higher taxes on alcohol, tobacco, cars and boats.

It was all part of an effort to cover a $315 million shortfall while also following through on rolling back half of what’s left of the controversial 2008 sales tax hike. The county will completely roll back that tax hike by 2013.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

Under Preckwinkle’s plan, the county would begin charging $4.75 for parking at the garages and lots at its six criminal courthouses – one in Chicago and five in the suburbs of Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Bridgeview and Markham.

READ THE BLUEPRINT OF PRECKWINKLE’S BUDGET PLAN

County Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12th) said he’s trying to negotiate for one group that would get hit by a new charge.

“A number of these people that are going to the courthouse are there because they’re being summoned for jury duty,” Fritchey said. “I would like us to either waive that cost for people that are there for jury duty or maybe reduce it down to $2 so it’s still much cheaper than it would be to take public transportation.”

Fritchey also said he supports a plan to have residents in unincorporated areas start paying $150 a year for county police protection.

Preckwinkle’s budget plan would increase the use tax on the sale of titled property – such as boats and cars – from .75 percent to 1 percent, to raise $14 million a year.

The county tax on beer, wine and booze, would go up 20 percent to 50 percent. Cook County alone already taxes hard liquor $2 a gallon. New revenue to the county from the alcohol tax hike is estimated at nearly $11 million.

Another quarter-percent in taxes on sales of titled property like cars would bring in $14 million. Closing loopholes for loose tobacco would add $12 million.

Preckwinkle’s budget would cut her own office appropriation by 11 percent, or $11 million, with a loss of 282 positions. Overall, budget cuts would total $54 million and 1,600 jobs eliminated — through about 1,000 layoffs and eliminating about 600 vacant positions.

She also proposes reducing the county jail population by 1,000 inmates, saving $5 million.

“Seventy percent of our jail population is there for non-violent offenses,” Preckwinkle told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. “We think we can identify 1,000 of those people and put them on electronic monitoring, get them on I-bonds.”

Public safety offices could also see a major loss. The Sheriff’s office could see a cut of $8 million, the Chief Judge about $4 million, and the State’s Attorney’s office about $3 million.

Some county taxpayers called the tax hikes all but inevitable.

“When you are living in Cook County and living in city of Chicago, you’ve got the city with its budget crisis, the county with its budget crisis, and state with its budget crisis, and everywhere you turn, the taxes are going up, and the services are being cut,” said Chicago resident Cindy Stuyvesant. “So you deal with it, but you understand, but ultimately, it’s got to end somewhere.”

The fiscal year starts Dec. 1. State law requires the county to pass a balanced budget by the end of February.

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