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  Cook County is the second most populous county in the nation. It is the 19th largest government in the U.S.


Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Special to

1. CUT BUDGET 2% ACROSS THE BOARD - $59.9 million
The question is simple: raise taxes on Cook County taxpayers as will be proposed by President Stroger, or cut expenses by 2% across the board. Cutting 2% from the FY 2004 budget amount of approximately $3 billion would produce a cost savings of $59.88 million. In a $3 billion dollar budget, agency heads should easily be able to operate with 98% of FY 2004 budget for FY2005.

2. CUT 1,000 OPEN POSITIONS - $49 million
According to a documents distributed by the Cook County budget office in February 2004, there were 1,932 full-time vacant positions for a total amount of $97.5 million in salaries. The money from these budgeted open positions is often transferred to pay for unplanned over-time expenditures. There are currently 1000 positions still vacant. The elimination of these positions will save Cook County taxpayers $49 million.

3. ADJUST VACANCY RATE FROM 3% TO 6% - $40.5 million
Historically the county has had an actual vacancy rate significantly higher than the budgeted 3%, because of an inability or unwillingness to fill open positions in a timely manner. The result has been over-appropriations and higher than necessary budgets and taxes. By simply doubling the vacancy rate to 6%, which more accurately reflects actual vacancies, the county can save $40.5 million.

Cook County government appropriated $29,185,453 for over-time for FY 2004. Actual expenditures for FY 2004 are not available, but in FY 2003, $41 million was appropriated for over-time, but $77 million was actually spent. This represents a 146% increase over what was appropriated during the budgetary process. Uncontrolled over-time expenditures are a function of poor management. Other governments have been able to cut over-time expenditures. The City of Chicago, for instance, has reduced over-time by 33% over the past four years, from $120 million to $80 million. Enforcing management discipline and holding over-time expenditures to actual appropriated levels, would save Cook County taxpayers $30 million annually.

Currently non-union County employees receive a yearly step increase in addition to annual or semi-annual cost of living adjustments. The average yearly step increase is approximately 4.5% . This is in addition to the cost of living adjustment (COLA) that averages around 3%. Total annual increase of 7.5% is clearly higher than the national average for the U.S. Workforce of 3.5%. Each 1% COLA costs taxpayers approximately $13 million per year. The average step increases costs taxpayers $26 million per year. Therefore, during an average year taxpayers are paying an additional $65 million per year for wage increases alone. The elimination of step increases would save $26 million annually. The elimination of the average COLA would save $39 million annually. Either choice allows for yearly wage increases for county employees while promoting fiscal responsibility.

Non-union county employees pay a $3 co-pay for medical visits. The increase in the co-pay from $3 to $10 would decrease the county's costs by 3% yielding an annual savings of $5.9 million.

In addition, the average Cook County employee pays $16 per month for HMO coverage, yet the County pays an average of $264.78 per employee (with no family members) for coverage. If an employee has two or more enrolled family members that cost jumps to $773.39 per employee, while the employee still pays $16 per month. If every county employee paid an additional $16 per month towards their health insurance costs, the county would save $4.9 million annually. Another option would be to create a tiered system depending on numbers of covered family members.

County departments and agencies have many duplicative functions including human resources, planning, and financial management. Through the consolidation of these functions, the county can realize annual savings of approximately $8.4 million and increased efficiency and service delivery.

According to a 1996 cost of service study compiled for the County administration, the cost per "summons" (the term used in the study) was $37.89. With a fee set at $23.00, the net loss per summons was $14.89. When multiplied by the number of summons served in that study year-465,602-the total net loss to the County in providing service of process was more than $6.9 million. This cost is in addition to the salaries of the Process Servers in the Court Services Division of the Cook County Sheriff's Office. Salaries for the process servers, not including benefits, total almost $7 million. If the plaintiff has the ability to hire a private process server without the Sheriff's Office making first attempt at service we will save a minimum $7 million annually.

By applying technology in a comprehensive and strategic manner, beginning in FY 2005, Cook County could save at least $35 million annually, with the full savings realized within two years. If aggressively adopted at the beginning of the fiscal year, such technological improvements could approach $5 million by the fourth quarter of the fiscal year.

Currently the Cook County Sheriff's Office employs 336 personnel to provide janitorial services at a cost of $14.97 million. Based on comparable units of government, privatizing this function would result in $3 million annual cost savings for Cook County taxpayers.


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