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updated: 7/31/2015 5:58 AM

Cook County employee raises proposal would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants to increase pay for some Cook County employees -- a proposal that comes on the heels of a sales tax hike that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

A budget plan introduced yesterday by the county chief would extend raises of up to 6.5 percent for some county employees, as detailed in a recent article by Crain's Chicago Business.

The plan's price tag totals roughly $130 million in raises over a five-year period, counterbalanced slightly by $30 million in proposed health care savings, reducing the cost to taxpayers to about $100 million, Crain's reports.

Preckwinkle's staff members say the issues of employee raises and the recent sales tax hike aren't interchangeable, attributing the raises to cost of living.

"We disagree with the manner in which (Crain's) presented (its) numbers," said Frank Shuftan, Cook County's public information officer.

Shuftan said the pay increase negotiations have been ongoing for years and could have concluded at any time, as some did prior to the sales tax hike idea being floated.

Additionally, he said the sales tax hike stipulates how the money must be used: pension fund shortfall, legacy debt, and then infrastructure.

"To give you some context, this involves numerous collective bargaining agreements that have been subject of negotiation for more than two years. They are five-year deals that retro back a couple of years," he said. "There's also a (cost of living adjustment) provision for nonunion employees. In addition, there were employee concessions in the health care package that reduced net to the county as part of the agreements."

The proposal, sent to a Cook County Board committee for review, extends to other unionized employees new contracts with some county unions that were negotiated earlier this year.

Highlights of Preckwinkle's proposal include:

-- Only those who make more than $200,000 in annual salary would be excluded.

-- The deals for union workers call for a retroactive hike of 1 percent on June 1, 2013; 1.5 percent on June 1, 2014, and 2 percent on June 1, 2015. Another 2 percent will come this December, plus 2.25 percent on Dec. 1, 2016, and 2 percent on June 1, 2017.

-- Mid- and low-level nonunion workers -- those below Grade 23 on the county's pay system -- will get no retroactive payment under the proposal before the board, but will get 4.5 percent this October and another 2 percent on Dec. 1. More raises are contemplated in 2017.

"Funds for the raises and COLA will come from the operating budget, this year and coming years, NOT from the sales tax increase," Shuftan said.

• The Associated Press and Crain's Chicago Business contributed to this report.

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