Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Democratic candidates speak at a Cook County Democratic Party news conference and voting event in Kenwood in June 2022 [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is set on Thursday to unveil her $8.75 billion proposed budget for the 2023 fiscal year — a plan she said spends millions on equity programs and pandemic relief without raising taxes or eliminating crucial services.
Preckwinkle’s recommended budget is 7.8 percent higher than Fiscal Year 2022’s adopted budget and includes no new taxes while closing an $18.2 million budget gap, the lowest gap during Preckwinkle’s time in office. Preckwinkle’s proposed plan includes a $7.23 billion operating budget and around a 1 percent increase in full-time equivalent positions to bring the county’s total to 23,371 full-time equivalent positions.
Preckwinkle will deliver her budget address before a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners at 10 a.m. Thursday. It will be livestreamed on the county’s website.
The board president and county Bureau of Finance officials presented the budget and took questions from reporters at a virtual press briefing Wednesday afternoon.
The county has been able to close its budget gap without the need for higher taxes due to revenue figures that were greater than expected – including a projected $124 million year-over-year increase in sales tax revenue, the board president said.
“From investing in our future and addressing the pandemic to creating a more equitable county and encouraging fiscal responsibility, I believe this is a thoughtful budget that does a great deal of good for our residents,” Preckwinkle said in an Oct. 5 news release.
Expenditures from the county’s general fund would total $1.97 billion, with 54.5 percent of that spending directed toward public safety, according to Preckwinkle’s plan. The county’s health enterprise fund has a proposed budget of $3.99 billion.
Preckwinkle highlighted some of the county programs funded in the budget by federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, including the county’s $42 million guaranteed income pilot program, a $71 million program providing small business grants, $14.1 million toward the county’s homelessness response for Cook County Health patients and a $12 million program to eliminate residents’ medical debt.
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The county also plans to invest $70 million using its Equity Fund in programs aimed at addressing inequities in justice, public safety, health, housing, economic opportunity, community development and social services to benefit marginalized communities.
The county’s new budgeted positions are largely concentrated in public safety and are needed to assist the county in the implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act next year, Cook County Budget Director Annette Guzman told reporters.
Despite the number of new positions, the county remains plagued by vacancies, which Guzman estimated at more than 4,000. Preckwinkle told The Daily Line the county intends to fill those vacancies – the vast majority of which are in health care – during the upcoming fiscal year.
“Our Department of Human Resources has secured support from a consultant to help us ramp up our recruitment and hiring activities and we're hopeful to fill these positions in the coming year,” Preckwinkle said.
Related: Labor crunch casts shadow over Cook County’s sunny 2023 budget forecast
“This is a really challenging time for health care across the country, not just us,” Preckwinkle told reporters. “We're assuming that as the pandemic abates, that situation will become a little more manageable.”
The county has exceeded the amount of supplemental pension payments required of it by more than $2 billion since 2016, “significantly reducing the unfunded pension liability and allowing the Cook County Pension Fund to keep its assets invested and take advantage of good market performance,” county officials said.
Following the board president’s presentation, two public hearings and multiple department budget hearings will be held throughout October. The county budget is tentatively set for a vote Nov. 17.