CHICAGO -- The Cook County Board has passed a $2.2 billion budget restoring hundreds of jobs that the board president tried to cut in his original proposal.
The budget calls for no new debt and no property tax increases, and came in about $1 million higher than the original proposal by the board's president, Richard Phelan. It does earmark $24 million to conclude the design and planning of a new Cook County Hospital. Consultants earlier this year said the long-contemplated 464-bed hospital would probably cost about $500 million.
Phelan tried to tighten the county's belt even further by suggesting a reduction of 574 staff positions in the county's hospital and health systems. But a rebellious board foiled the outgoing president's hopes for easy passage of his final budget and voted to reinstate about 200 of the jobs in question.
At the behest of Phelan's successor, John Stroger, who now chairs the board's Finance Committee, they added several new positions to the president's administrative staff, including a director of special events, a labor specialist, and a criminal justice program coordinator.
The board also voted for a $3.1 million expenditure to hire 225 more correctional officers and supervisors in the sheriff's department instead of demolishing an existing corrections building and transferring its staff, as Phelan had proposed.
However, the county voted to trim the cost of several employees, eliminating benefits for part-time and temporary workers. Stroger said the move could save the county up to $4 million next year.
The board retained funding for a $40 million hospital for county inmates and a $7 million detention center for juvenile inmates.
Cook County enjoys an A1 rating from Moody's Investors Service and A-plus ratings from Fitch Investors Service Inc. and Standard & Poor's Corp. "The  budget steps up expenditures without having to raise property taxes," said Fitch executive managing director Richard Raphael. "You can't argue with that, especially after you see what they did last year. They had a pretty healthy surplus in 1994 even though revenues were off a little bit."
Harvey Zachem of Moody's and Jon Reichert of Standard & Poor's both declined to comment on the budget, saying they had yet to discuss it with county officials.
County officials allocated $46 million of the 1994 budget surplus to fund start-up costs for several projects, and they reserved $29 million of surplus funds to pay for capital equipment that was originally charged against bond accounts in anticipation of future bond offerings.
County chief financial officer Woods Bowman noted that the new administration can elect to use the money for different items than originally outlined in Phelan's proposal.
The budget also holds the property tax levy for county operating costs to $420 million, $3.1 million less than when Phelan came into office four years ago. The total levy, including debt service payments and other non-operating expenses is $675.