Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today released the preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2013, projecting a shortfall of $267.5 million.
The latest projection is a clear sign of the progress being made to stabilize County finances after preliminary budget shortfalls of $487 million for FY 2011 and $315 million for FY 2012. President Preckwinkle pointed to declining revenue streams as the key driver of the projected shortfall citing a $152 million shortfall at the Cook County Health and Hospitals System made up largely in patient billing fees, the planned rollback of .25% of the sales tax which has an $87.8 million impact on the 2013 budget, and decreases in other revenue sources such as the County’s tobacco tax ($20 million), a decline in court filings ($12 million), and the gasoline and diesel tax ($3.8 million). As Preckwinkle emphasized her commitment to the complete roll back of the Stroger sales tax as necessary for economic growth in Cook County, she revealed that budget impact of the rollback is projected to be $9 million less than anticipated.
“This preliminary budget forecast is evidence we are making progress, but more work needs to be done to achieve the fiscal strength that I want on behalf of County taxpayers,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “There will be tough choices made in the next several months to balance the budget that will be hard for many people, including myself, but this is the economic reality we face today.”
At a news conference Wednesday, President Preckwinkle announced immediate steps the County will be taking to curb the projected shortfall. The County will begin a partial hiring freeze on all vacancies created by retirements with the exception of positions that reduce overtime, increase revenue, are grant funded, or are deemed otherwise critical to County operations. The President also said the County is working to roughly $2.4 million in elections savings by instituting best practices and reducing the number of precincts that are the result of the City-County collaborative. Preckwinkle also noted that pension reform will help the County realize significant savings in the years to come as the County is expected to spend $195 million on pension costs and another $290 million on health benefits in 2013 alone.
“We believe these steps will aid us in our efforts to present a balanced budget to the Cook County Board in October, but we know that there is much more work to do in the coming weeks,” Preckwinkle said.
Preckwinkle announced that the County will hold a public hearing on July 18th for residents to weigh in on the best way to craft the 2013 Budget. Prior to the hearing, residents can visit www.cookcountyil.gov/Budget to view the preliminary budget and access more information about how the County allocates resources. Residents can also take advantage of an interactive feature called “Tell Toni” through social media and use a tool to show the tough choices they would make to balance the budget. Twitter users can use the hash tag “#TellToni” to share their thoughts online.
“I want people to engage with their government as we move forward with this difficult process so we can incorporate the ideas of the public into our budget,” Preckwinkle said.
President Preckwinkle stressed the critical importance of other elected officials continuing their collaboration with the Budget Department as the budget process gets under way. Cook County has 11 independently elected officials, not including the 17-member Cook County Board of Commissioners.
“All of us have difficult decisions to make, so I would ask for your help and support as we move forward,” Preckwinkle said. “I want ideas, and we have a responsibility to the public to balance our budget in a smart, responsible way. Our work starts now.”