The Cook County Board of Commissioners approved on Nov. 18 a balanced $8 billion FY2022 budget which aims to address the county’s ongoing pandemic response efforts while not increasing taxes or cutting critical services.
The 17-0 vote follows a month of departmental hearings, commissioner questions and public meetings.
“Strong financial management and a willingness to make tough decisions over the last 10 years has helped develop this $8 billion balanced budget," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “This is a budget reflecting our values and a commitment to advancing equity. I’m proud of our work to combat this pandemic while being financially responsible. This budget creates a strong foundation for our continued recovery work and creating a stronger Cook County.”
Preckwinkle noted that the County was able to close a $121.43 million budget gap without the need for raising new revenue. A combination of financially responsible efforts, federal relief and higher than previously forecasted revenues helped close the substantial general fund budget hole. These higher than previously forecasted revenue figures were primarily found in newer tax sources like cannabis, gaming and online sales and have also helped balance this budget without the need for taxes.
In the coming year, Cook County will use nearly a quarter of the billion American Rescue Plan Act dollars to fund programs in alignment with the Cook County Policy Roadmap. While the County plans on releasing a more specific breakdown of federal relief plans, and estimates may change in the future, Preckwinkle provided a snapshot of how federal relief funding will be spent including:
- $80 million dollars to fund economic development initiatives like cash assistance programs and a guaranteed income pilot, short and long-term housing support, workforce development program expansions and assistance to small businesses.
- $60 million toward healthcare and access initiatives like increased behavioral health and mental health programming and services as well as initiatives promoting access to food and nutrition.
- $60 million for equity and justice initiatives like alternatives to 911 for mental health crises, expansion of permanent housing for re-entry populations and expansion of violence prevention programs and support for youth and young adults.
- $40 million on high priority infrastructure projects like investing in digital equity through broadband infrastructure expansion.
- $20 million for environmental projects such as pollution prevention and hazard mitigation programs that promote clean air, water and protection from environmental disasters.
- $27 million for regional programs such as Suburban Local Jurisdiction Technical Assistance, a Suburban Capital Infrastructure Fund and the development of emergency preparedness and continuity of government plans.
Preckwinkle also called attention to the fact that Cook County has provided supplemental pension payments of almost $1.95 billion dollars above the required contribution 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.
The Pension Fund’s funded ratio increased to 63.9% in just 5 years; without supplemental funding the ratio would be 53.3% at most. Preckwinkle noted that paying nearly $2 billion above the state’s statutory payment formula was one of the cited reasons for a recent Fitch Ratings upgrade.
Preckwinkle also highlighted several important items and investments in the budget that will be moving forward in the coming year:
- $384 million in charity care—Cook County provides more than 50% of charity care in the County despite being only two of the 68 hospitals in the County.
Focus on public health response, outreach, and education: hyper-local vaccination programs and continued work for ongoing COVID-19 response including contact tracing.
- Construction and expansion of healthcare services:
- Opening Belmont Cragin Health Center.
- Renovations and additions to Provident Hospital.
- Expansion of service lines (neurology, cardiology, and oncology).
- Restoration of ambulance runs and expansion of inpatient capacity at Provident Hospital.
- Expansion of vital programs launched with CARES Act funding, such as continued rounds of emergency rental assistance, including a partnership with the Office of the Chief Judge to offer these services through a new Eviction Support Program which expedites the review process.
- $53 million in equity fund investments for restorative and social justice grants, and initiatives recommended through the Equity Fund Taskforce to promote safe and thriving communities.
- Investments within the Circuit Court Clerk (CCC) and Office of Chief Judge to expand access to courts including the build out of a new call center within the CCC which will serve as a one-stop shop for those looking to navigate the court system, and additional clerks within the Chief Judge’s office to assist users of the courts navigating the new zoom/virtual court hearings.
- Expansion of critical tech infrastructure to promote access to government services and project efficiencies, such as the ongoing work to build out the County’s integrated property tax system.
- Increased investment in environmental planning through the creation of Pollution Prevention and Resiliency Planning Units to assist business and local government units.
- Continued remediation of brownfields in the west and south suburbs.
- Continued demolition of underutilized County facilities including on the detention center campus.
- Continued support for the “Invest in Cook” program headed by Department of Transportation and Highways ($8.5 million investment).
- Continued re-design and upgrades of County buildings to align with the County’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050.
- Investment in broadband infrastructure to bridge the digital divide; County to provide matching funds to Connect Illinois broadband grant received from the State of Illinois.
- Increase of 7% in County full time employees to prepare capacity for the rising demand of government services and to provide support for ARPA initiatives.