Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today introduced her FY 2014 Executive budget recommendation. The proposed $3.2 billion operating budget includes no new taxes, fines, or fees and makes critical investments in the County’s public health and safety systems while reducing unnecessary costs.
“This budget reflects my administration’s work over the past three years and is a testament to the reforms we have put in place to institutionalize fiscal responsibility in County government,” President Preckwinkle said. “We are not raising taxes and we are prioritizing spending. We have solved for more than $1.2 billion in deficits since I took office while improving services.”
In June, the County reported a preliminary budget deficit of $152 million. The shortfall was solved by an in increase in anticipated Cook County Health and Hospitals System payments of $86.5 million and $10.5 million in savings. The County reduced additional expenses by $24.2 million. Revenues are estimated to increase $16.5 million from the preliminary projection, partly as a result of an improving economy and increased tax enforcement. The County also will save $14.4 million in health and pharmacy costs by improving the management of employee benefits and more closely monitoring specialty drugs and conditions.
The President’s proposed budget contains no new taxes due in large part to the continued success of CountyCare, a Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act which provides health care coverage for tens of thousands of uninsured and underinsured patients in Cook County. This will support the CCHHS transformation from emergency care to preventative and primary care.
The County anticipates $278 million in net revenue from CountyCare in the FY 2014 budget. As of this week, the County has initiated more than 110,000 applications and sent them to the State for approval. It is on track to exceed the President’s and CCHHS CEO Dr. Ram Raju’s goal of 115,000 applications by the end of 2013. This will allow CCHHS to improve services and become more self-sufficient. The County has reduced the CCHHS subsidy by $76 million from the previous year. The health fund in the 2014 budget is increasing by $162 million which reflects the needed investments to implement CountyCare and improved reimbursements.
As in previous years, the County’s public safety system remains a priority in the FY 2014 budget. Public safety funding will increase by $27.6 million from the prior year. It reflects a change in state law that would shift 17-year-olds charged with felonies from the adult court system to the juvenile system. The shift will cost the County roughly $10 million. The “Raise the Age” legislation requires additional staffing and resources at both the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) and the Office of the Chief Judge’s Juvenile Probation.
“While the ‘Raise the Age’ legislation is the right policy, it comes at a price. It costs more to detain juveniles at the JTDC than it does to hold adults in our jail,” Preckwinkle said. “The law was intended to prevent young men and women from being tried as adults and sent to the County jail – which is a good thing. Jail isn’t a place for teenagers. We must continue to work together to find alternatives to detention for our young people.”
The public safety budget also is increasing $3.8 million due to mandated federal hiring at the Cook County Jail. In addition, the President’s budget recommendation will provide resources to the Cook County Jail to continue to treat those who are incarcerated and diagnosed as mentally ill. The County also has initiated CountyCare applications from detainees at the jail, which would allow applicants to obtain mental or behavioral health services upon release. And the County is working to modernize operations by investing in technology that will allow public safety offices to share data.
Modernizing County Operations
President Preckwinkle’s budget recommendation includes a 21 percent increase in grant revenue. This reflects the administration’s aggressive pursuit of alternate funding sources. This increase includes a $4.5 million grant from the Illinois Attorney General to the Cook County Land Authority (CCLBA) – a new agency charged with bringing vacant and abandoned properties back to productive use.
The President’s proposed budget contains several new initiatives to improve services for County residents. In FY 2014, the Medical Examiner will add more than 20 employees. This needed staff will allow the office to function at optimum efficiency and bolster its efforts to achieve national accreditation. The Bureau of Technology is investing $1.5 million to expand and improve the County’s aging broadband networks. There also will be investments in the Office of the Independent Inspector General’s (OIIG) case management system to enhance its ability to root out and reduce misconduct in County government.
Following the introduction of the proposed FY 2014 budget to the County’s Board of Commissioners, the Finance Committee will hold four public hearings on the budget recommendation throughout the County.
“These hearings will give residents an opportunity to provide meaningful input and voice their concerns before a final vote on the budget,” Preckwinkle said. “I urge everyone involved in this process – commissioners, separately elected officials, our unions, our civic groups, and residents – to bring us ideas, and help us pass a responsible budget without new taxes, fines or fees.”