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updated: 3/3/2011 5:34 PM

Cook County 15th District hopefuls talk sales tax

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Businesses owners from Cook County towns, including Palatine and Hanover Park, have protested the county's sales-tax increase over the past two years.

They blamed the increase for sending potential customers to shop in neighboring DuPage and Lake counties. The fate of the sales tax will remain on their minds when they elect new members to the Cook County Board in November.

The board, after much anguish, in July repealed part of that sales-tax increase by a half a percentage point. That dropped the county portion of the tax to 1.25 percent. In many Northwest suburbs, it meant the overall sales tax fell from 10 percent to 9.5 percent.

The candidates for the 15th District Cook County Board seat - Jim Dasakis, Laura Ehorn and Timothy Schneider - shared their views on the sales tax and how they could help businesses cope in the struggling economy.

The 15th district represents all of Streamwood, most of Schaumburg, Hanover Park and Hoffman Estates and parts of Arlington Heights, Bartlett, Des Plaines, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Itasca, Mount Prospect, Rolling Meadows and Roselle.

Outgoing board President Todd Stroger said the tax was needed in 2008 to patch the deficit. The 1 percentage point increase made Chicago's sales-tax rate the highest in the country.

Schneider, the Republican incumbent, touted his record against the increase and said his priority if re-elected to a second four-year term would be to repeal the increase's remaining half percentage point. The Bartlett resident said cutting the sales tax may reduce money for Cook County, but it would force the government "to ask difficult questions."

"We could cut unnecessary expenses, personnel," he said. "I believe right now the county has almost 24,000 employees, we could have 20,000 without a single lay off."

Schneider said he'd leave vacant positions unfilled, only hiring for essential posts. He said he's talked to business owners, including those at the Schaumburg Business Association, to help educate them about the increase and ways to cope with the economic struggles.

Ehorn, the Green Party candidate from Hanover Park, said she didn't think Schneider did enough on behalf of suburban business owners.

"I would have raised a bigger stink," she said. "I hadn't heard of Schneider, the current guy, until the last month. I haven't heard a peep out of him."

She called the tax unnecessary, and said budget cuts are needed. She agrees with Schneider that the full increase needs to be repealed.

"There are people (county employees) who don't need new furniture right now," Ehorn said.

Dasakis, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates, said it's unrealistic to think there's enough votes to repeal the rest of the increase. Even though Schneider voted against the increase, Dasakis said, the majority of the 17 commissioners approved the hike, but then they publicly opposed the increase for election purposes.

"When (Stroger) was looking for alternatives to raising the tax, nobody offered anything new, and if there was anything, they didn't come to an agreement," Dasakis said.

Dasakis said the county only collects a portion of the overall sales tax, and it shouldn't take the blame when the state collects 6.25 percent.

He also disagreed with Schneider over reducing the county work force. Dasakis said he worried about cuts to services.