On Nov. 19, the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved the FY’16 budget.
The approximately $4.2 billion operating budget is highlighted by initiatives advanced by President Toni Preckwinkle, said a prepared statement issued by President Preckwinkle’s Office. Those include continuing efforts to reduce the jail population by ending the overreliance on pre-trial detention and demolishing three buildings on the Department of Corrections campus; realigning and reducing the County’s real estate footprint; modernizing County government by installing biometric time clocks and eliminating paper paystubs to cut payroll-related costs; and shifting from inpatient to more patient-centered and less-costly outpatient care at the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.
“This budget is a reasonable and responsible approach that avoids severely impacting operations and services, particularly in the public safety arena,” President Preckwinkle said. “It is also a demanding budget with more than $110 million in expenditure and staff reductions, and program cuts, but throughout the process we have been committed to tackling our fiscal challenges head on.”
The prepared statement continued:
“The balanced budget follows months of work to close an initial $198.9 million gap between projected revenues and expenses. The County’s finance team worked with departments and separately elected officials to find savings, but still was left with a $20 million shortfall.
“To bridge that final gap, the Board approved a 1% tax on hotels and motels, which is expected to provide $15.4 million in revenue in FY 16. That levy will be coupled with a $750,000 tax on ticket resellers and additional $4.1 million in expenditure reductions — on top of the $107.7 million in cuts previously proposed — for total expense reductions of $111.8 million.
“Additionally, the budget amends the County’s tobacco tax ordinance to include e-cigarettes and e-vapor products to be taxed at 20 cents per milliliter. This will treat e-cigarettes like other tobacco products, as studies have shown that these products are increasingly being marketed toward youth. This change is expected to generate $1.5 million.
“Under the FY 16 budget, the County will be reducing the overall workforce as measured by full-time equivalent (FTE) positions by 1.2 percent in FY 2016, largely by eliminating vacancies but also with some layoffs. Added to previous reductions, the County’s overall workforce will be 9.4 percent smaller than when Preckwinkle took office in 2010.
“The budget also reflects President Preckwinkle’s commitment to criminal justice reforms aimed at further reducing the jail population, said the prepared statement. Collective efforts in recent years have reduced the population to its lowest level since 1991 by ending the overreliance on pre-trial detention of persons charged with non-violent crimes. This sustained jail population reduction will allow Cook County to demolish three buildings on the Department of Corrections campus to save more than $3 million in FY 2016 and avoid $188 million in capital costs over the next decade.
“On the public health front, the President’s office worked with the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) to continue to reduce local taxpayer funding of the system. Through its CountyCare program, Cook County’s uninsured patient population has dropped to the lowest level on record, declining from 56 percent in 2012 to approximately 32 percent in 2015.
“As a direct result of these efforts, in FY 16 the operating tax allocation to CCHHS will be $121 million, $43 million less than the FY 15 level. This also represents a 69 percent, or $268 million, reduction from the year before Preckwinkle took office, even as services to residents have improved and expanded.
“All budget information has been posted to the Cook County budget website, allowing the public to review documents and engage with the President’s Office directly. To view the Budget website, please go to cookcountyil.gov/budget/.
Commissioner Larry Suffredin voted ‘no.’ He gave his reasons in the following prepared statement:
“On November 18, 2015 the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. For the second year, and only the second time as a Commissioner, I voted ‘NO’ on the Budget. I did this because the Budget showed a lack of reform, planning and coordination that now subjects our taxpayers to over $500 million in new taxes and the highest sales tax and hotel tax in the nation. I voted “No” on these taxes.
“As I reported to you earlier this year, the Sales Tax increase was done outside of our adopted budget process. Because we did not follow our normal budget process, there was no plan to ensure that the funds would be properly spent and no justification for the need to layer on additional taxes unto already overtaxed Cook County Residents. When this budget was introduced, there was a request for $30 million more in taxes and fees in addition to the already approved $474 million a year sales tax increase.
“During the last week, as the Amusement Tax increase of $21 million failed to get enough support for passage, a new $31 million Hotel Tax was proposed. There was no planning or coordination to determine what this Hotel Tax would mean to the region’s economy and what effect it would have on jobs. The Hotel Tax was combined with $4.9 million in new court filing fees to present a ‘reasonable and modest’ tax increase. These taxes and fees will have great detrimental effect on our citizens and the regional economy and are not ‘reasonable and modest.’
“A year ago, I pointed out our need to plan for criminal justice issues to reduce the gun threat and reduce overall violence in our county. During the last year the Chief Judge, State’s Attorney, Public Defender and Sheriff have been required to report on their efforts to reduce crime through pretrial service programs and drug diversion programs. Their efforts have been working , but the response to success has been to restrict programs that work in this budget. The Chief Judge’s budget and that of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) were restricted and the State’s Attorney’s very successful Drug Diversion was eliminated. The County Board restored successful programs in those budgets by adopting amendments that I sponsored. In addition, I was able to restore the Chief Judge’s successful Mortgage Mediation Program which has helped thousands of people keep their homes during the foreclosure crisis.
“A year ago I was blocked when I tried to get additional funding for our pension system. I stated that we would need $160 million in additional payments this year. This budget makes a $270 million payment to the pension fund which helps avoid an immediate crisis, but efforts to ensure future additional payment were defeated. The pension issue must have a long term solution.
“I was unable to restore full funding to the Restorative Justice Program, Access to Care Health Plan, and the Bridge Behavioral Health Aftercare for children being discharged from the JTDC. These programs improve the quality of life in our County and I will continue to fight for them.
“This budget also puts the Cook County Health and Hospital System in jeopardy because it cuts $42 million from the County’s subsidy to the System. While the System is working better than ever and we are serving more insured patients, this is not the time to lessen our support. If the System is to stand on its own in the future, we must support it adequately now.
“Finally, this budget delays for 6 months a 2% pay raise for all non-union County workers. All union workers will get the 2% raise immediately. This is not right. All County workers should be treated the same. For all these reasons I voted “NO” on the Budget.”