This is the 15th Cook County budget I have worked to amend to meet the needs of Cook County residents for efficient services. I voted against the 2015 and 2016 budgets because they did not have the proper planning and coordination to protect our citizens.

Today I voted “YES” on the 2018 Cook County budget.  Not because it has the thoughtful planning and coordination I wanted, but because it is the best and only alternative to protect Cook County from a meltdown of key services.

This budget has 323 actual employees losing their jobs. These are employees who are being let go through no fault of their own. These are people who every day gave our citizens their best. The original proposed budget included over 600 job loses.  With good faith negotiations and a better understanding of job responsibilities, we were able to save many services.

A year ago I hailed a budget that was “streamlining our workforce” with thoughtful decisions that reduced unnecessary jobs. Today we have damaged our workforce with cuts to essential services.

This budget allows our Cook County Health and Hospital System to meet changing patient needs through better planning by the Independent Board and better use of public health resources including Access to Care and the Children’s Advocacy Center.

In the future, County Care has the potential to permanently stabilize the system through more earned fees. But, remember, Cook County will always be responsible by law for the $110 million in free care required at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and the jail along with required services that the Department of Public Health provides to suburban Cook County.

Last year’s budget protected the resources necessary to give our county lawyers in the State’s Attorney Office, the Public Defender Office and the Public Guardian Office the tools they needed. This year, after much negotiation, all three offices have the number of lawyers they need  – but they have fewer resources to do their jobs.

Unfortunately, many of the resources provided to the Circuit Court of Cook County have been eliminated. Reductions in probation services, social services and the elimination of the Mortgage Foreclosure program will make it harder to help people stay out of criminal or financial trouble. In addition, the reductions at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center will cause operational problems. These reductions may create legal liability.

The judiciary as a separate branch of government must have its independence protected in future budgets.

The problems of the judiciary are compounded by the deep cuts to the Sheriff’s Office, which will make protecting the courts and the citizens who use them harder. These cuts will create potential legal liability in the way court services, the Sheriff’s Police and the Department of Corrections are operated. The Sheriff’s Office is essential to all citizens’ safety and it requires more – not less – resources.

This budget protects the $350 million extra pension payment the county established 2 years ago. Our pensions are among the most stable in Illinois, but they will continue to need extra payments to stay strong.

I have complained about the lack of planning and coordination by the board when considering the budgets and the real needs of the county. This budget lacks proper planning and coordination because of the way in which the board repealed the “Sweetened Beverage Tax.” The isolated repeal outside of the budget process made this budget much harder than if we had negotiated repeal and the budget at the same time.

Also, when the board repealed the “Sweetened Beverage Tax”, it unintentionally voided a binding resolution and ordinance from last year that prohibits the raising of any taxes by the county until after 2020. This prohibition covered property taxes, sales taxes and any home rule excise taxes. The loss of this protection to the taxpayers will make any future budget more difficult.

Larry Suffredin

Cook County Commissioner, 13th District