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Stroger talks sales tax, pensions with suburban residents
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger speaks a town-hall meeting at The Summit of Uptown in Park Ridge.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Summit resident Eleanor Mensinga asks a question on law enforcement of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger at a town-hall meeting at The Summit of Uptown in Park Ridge.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger addresses a question on taxes at a town-hall meeting at The Summit of Uptown in Park Ridge.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger shakes hands as he leaves a town-hall meeting at The Summit of Uptown in Park Ridge.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/30/2009 12:04 AM

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Cook County Board President Todd Stroger gave suburban residents a lesson in county government 101 Tuesday afternoon at a town hall-style meeting in Park Ridge.

He received a more favorable reception at the meeting than at some other sessions in the Northwest suburbs.

Stroger, who recently lost the support of county Democratic committeemen for the February 2010 primary and has approval ratings as low as 10 percent in polls, dodged a question about whether he would stay in politics if defeated.

"I'd have to think about it real hard and my wife will weigh in on that matter," Stroger said.

Stroger, 46, came to power three years ago when Cook County Democratic leaders tapped him to take over the county board presidency after his father, John Stroger, suffered a disabling stroke during the 2006 primary season.

The Democratic primary race has at least four other potential candidates: U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terrence O'Brien and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.

Stroger, who faced a small audience of about 50 people at the Summit of Uptown retirement community, fielded a few hardball questions from the audience Tuesday.

Park Ridge resident Edward Curtis asked if the county board would shirk its responsibility to fully fund employee pensions that were roughly $104 million in arrears in 2007.

"There is no guarantee that the county will fund the pension plan," said Curtis, who worked for 30 years with the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

Stroger said the amount owed for pensions increased to $113 million in 2008. He added, when the matter comes up again, he will renew his call for issuing a pension bond to pay off the entire debt, an idea he floated in 2007.

"I would suspect that eventually we are going to be sued by the pension board," Stroger said. "The more we wait, the more money we owe."

Some residents questioned whether cuts made by the county board to balance its budget were beginning to impact public safety programs.

Stroger responded at present those programs weren't severely affected because of Cook County's 1 percentage point sales-tax increase imposed earlier this year plugging the budget deficit.

The Cook County sales tax remains at 1.75 percent after a bid to repeal half the increase failed earlier this month. Stroger opposed the rollback.

If the ordinance, which would have rolled the sales tax back to 1.25 percent in 2010, had passed, "we would be $180 million in the hole immediately," Stroger said.