Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin has often referred to the Cook County government as “stealth government.” Familiar to many, really known by few, the county government takes a slice out of residents’ property tax bill; operates the courts, jails, and hospitals; keeps public records and manages elections and voter registration; and maintains various roads and forests.
At a prayer breakfast on Nov. 8 at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and representatives of several County departments offered a closer look into where County tax revenues are spent.
Workforce development: The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership between Cook County and the City of Chicago began in 2011 and serves both employers and potential employees. Formed under the federal Workforce Investment Act, the partnership serves more than 140,000 residents annually. Job-seekers have free access to telephones, fax machines, résumé workshops, computer literacy programs, social media literacy programs, and job-training for certain types of jobs. Executive Director Ray Bentley said, “We also help AARP 50+ individuals looking to get back into the workforce, in a time where not many people have savings and social security is not enough.”
“Connecting Cook County” is the County’s first long-range transportation plan in seven decades. John Yohan, Superintendent of Cook County Highways, said, “Transportation is about the importance of communities and the health of the economy.” The five priorities of this new strategic plan are prioritizing transit and other transportation alternatives, supporting the region’s role as North America’s freight capital, promoting equal access to employment opportunities, maintaining and modernizing existing transportation, and increasing the total investments in Cook Country transportation systems. No county roads cross through Evanston.
With 70,000 acres of forest and openlands and 300 miles of marked trails, the Cook County Forest Preserve offers recreational opportunities year-round: bicycling, hiking, boating, camping, fishing, and zip lining are among the fair-weather activities, and in winter there are opportunities for ice-fishing, cross-country skiing, ice-skating, and snow-shoeing. Evanston’s tiny but well used and well tended Perkins Woods occupies the block between Ewing and Bennett avenues and Colfax and Grant streets.
Stroger Hospital’s main campus will be redeveloped to include a new state-of-the-art outpatient facility housing an ambulatory clinic, professional office space, and accessible parking, said Jessica Caffrey, Director of Real Estate for Cook County. She said she anticipates the project will come in on budget at about $120 million and could be completed in the summer of 2018.
Marcelino Garcia, Director of Community Affairs at Cook County Health & Hospital System (CCHHS), and Patricia Hernandez, Community Outreach Worker at Stroger Hospital, presented information about CountyCare, an Illinois Medicaid health plan. CountyCare covers doctor visits, mental health care, dental care, women’s health, hospital care, X-rays, and more at 50 locations in the County. Mr. Garcia and Ms. Hernandez described the CCHHS partnership with the Chicago Police Department that has created a Community Triage Center located in Roseland on Chicago’s South Side. The triage center
provides crisis stabilization, case management, and treatment for patients with mental health and/or substance-related issues.
Jay Stewart, Cook County’s Deputy Bureau Chief of Economic Development, said the department is working closely with the new transportation improvements and highway developments in the County’s long-range transportation plan. He said the Economic Development Department uses federal entitlement money for Cook County’s infrastructure programs and affordable housing. The Housing Authority of Cook County maintains several affordable-housing developments in Evanston: Jacob Blake Manor, Oak Tree Village, Over The Rainbow Unit II, Perlman Apartments, and Walchirk Apartments.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has said the Cook County jail is the largest mental-health facility in the country. A representative for the Justice Advisory Council described how Cook County is looking to reform criminal justice policies. He said that, over the last several years, the Justice Advisory Council has been involved in the reform of automatic juvenile transfer policies, automatic juvenile expungement policies, raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds charged with felonies, and other issues pertaining to crimes committed by juveniles. He also said more than 10,000 justice-involved individuals have been enrolled in County Care, an Illinois Medicaid program, through Cook County correctional facilities in 2017.