Departing Cook County Board president Richard Phelan says his successor has got a tough job ahead. In a lengthy transition report, Phelan said that unless new revenues are mined or government costs cut, the county will face a fiscal crunch as soon as next year.

The report outlined several financial perils that could befall the county next year. Chief among them is a 5% property tax cap that Republican lawmakers say they will impose on Cook County.

Phelan noted that the cap proposal coincides with a rising burden on county coffers resulting from overburdened courts, jails, and hospitals. Over the next six years, the county plans to issue a series of general obligation bonds totaling $551 million to build a new public hospital.

Another concern, Phelan said, is that the state's Medicaid program, which covers some of the cost of treating patients at the hospital, is more than $1 billion behind in payments to Illinois health care providers.

"There will be renewed pressure on the levy in 1996 unless issues of public safety and health are monitored and specific measures taken to address them," Phelan said.

He suggested a battery of new taxes and fees, including a so-called use tax, which he said could generate $35 million in 1996. He also proposed the collection of county parking fees and a return to self-insurance to cover health costs for county employees.

John Stroger, sworn in as the board's new president last week, has already suggested an overhaul of the county's property tax system and institution of a graduated income tax dedicated to local government.

Phelan, who made an unsuccessful run for governor, returned to private law practice last week.

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