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County Board passes Preckwinkle's budget — which includes hotel tax

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle delivers the Fiscal Year 2016 budget address at the county board meeting in October. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle always called her $4.5 billion budget – which will tag an additional tax on everything from hotels and e-cigarettes to bullets and lawsuits — “difficult.”

But the budget, which will increase spending by the county by nearly $500 million, met 12-5 approval by commissioners on Wednesday. The budget factors in a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax, which will go into effect in January. The total sales tax will rise to 10.25 percent — among the highest in the nation — when state and other taxing bodies’ portions are added in.

“I cautioned almost exactly a year ago — when the Board passed the FY 15 budget — that FY 16 would be extremely difficult. And developing this budget was indeed difficult. But we managed to close a preliminary $198 million gap through a variety of expense cuts, smart management initiatives and with only modest tax and fee hikes,” Preckwinkle said in a statement.

Preckwinkle called the budget a “responsible” one that “tackles our needs head-on, without dodging tough decisions or kicking the can down the road,” she said.

Last month, Preckwinkle announced at a budget meeting that she would push to extend the county’s 3 percent amusement tax to include golf, bowling, cable television and secondary sales of sports tickets.

But that plan was scrapped — except for a tax on ticket reselling websites — as Preckwinkle met with commissioners and gained support for a 1 percent hotel tax which will increase the overall tax to a whopping 17.4 percent come May. That’s compared to 12 percent for Las Vegas and 12.5 percent for Orlando, Chicago’s two biggest rivals for convention business. That is expected to bring in about $31 million a year.

The tax on ticket reselling sites is estimated to bring in $750,000 a year. The county will also tag on a $20 fee for filing lawsuits.

The budget also changed the county’s tobacco tax ordinance to include e-cigarettes and e-vapor products to be taxed at 20 cents per milliliter. That change is expected to bring in $1.5 million.

The county is reducing its work force by 1.2 percent— both by eliminating vacancies but also with some layoffs.

The budget also includes a 1-cent-per cartridge tax on ammunition such as .22 caliber bullets, and a 5 cent per bullet tax on 9mm bullets. County Commissioner Richard Boykin signed onto the hotel tax only after Preckwinkle agreed to resurrect her failed, four-year-old plan to tax ammunition sales.