CHICAGO — The Cook County Board of Commissioners today approved a balanced and equitable $6.2 billion FY 2020 budget aimed at advancing Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s work on criminal justice reform, public health, infrastructure and economic development without the need to increase existing taxes. The budget approval follows a month of departmental hearings, commissioner questions and public meetings.
“Approving a balanced and equitable budget is one of our most important duties,” President Preckwinkle said. “This budget is building on our continuing dedication to providing essential services while being fiscally responsible all without the need to increase existing taxes.”
The $6.2 billion budget works to further the Cook County Policy Roadmap: A Five-Year Strategic Plan unveiled last year. Under the Roadmap, Cook County is promoting fiscal responsibility; advancing reforms in the criminal justice arena; ensuring residents have access to quality healthcare; protecting the environment; connecting people through transit and public infrastructure; and serving as a regional leader in growing the economy.
The Executive Operating Budget Recommendation closed an $18.7 million shortfall announced in June. This forecast represented the lowest preliminary gap total since President Preckwinkle took office and an almost 96 percent decrease from the $487 million encountered in her first year in office. President Preckwinkle also reiterated that nearly 90% of proposed budget expenditures, excluding pensions and debt service, is budgeted for public health and public safety. Departments that operate under the President’s direct control only comprise approximately 8% of the budget.
In the coming year, Cook County Health (CCH) will continue transforming into a healthcare organization of choice by providing outstanding clinics and specialty care across Cook County while continuing to improve patient experiences and provide quality healthcare and services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Despite operating only two of the 68 hospitals in Cook County, CCH provides over 50% of all charity care in the County and therefore serves as a safety net for many residents.
With the President’s continued efforts for criminal justice and bond reform, Cook County has experienced a sustained reduction in the jail pre-trial detainee population without a negative impact to public safety. This year, Cook County is allocating millions more to enhance Cook County’s collaboration efforts with its public safety partners and continue our work to transform the criminal justice system into one that is fair, efficient, compassionate and transparent. In 2020, the County will award grants to numerous community-based organizations to support violence prevention, recidivism reduction and restorative justice. Since President Preckwinkle took office, Cook County has distributed almost $18 million dollars in grants to community partners.
The FY20 budget continues to invest in highway and transportation infrastructure to ensure the County maintains its competitiveness as the Midwest’s key distribution and logistics hub. The Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways (DOTH) will be working maximize these investments and attract matching federal funds. Empowered by its strategic plan, Connecting Cook County, DOTH has vastly expanded its scope of work. Cook County will further advance Invest in Cook projects through strategic partnerships and grant applications to secure additional funding. The Department of Transportation and Highways has established a Fiscal Year 2020 target of $34 million dollars of funding for Invest in Cook projects.
Another priority of the administration is lifting Cook County’s south suburbs while using transportation infrastructure as a catalyst for job creation and economic development. In recent years, parts of the south suburbs have struggled as they have become increasingly disconnected from the region. As a result, the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development has worked with public and private partners to initiate the South Suburban Economic Growth Initiative. This initiative will create the capacity for coordinated, long-term economic development in the Southland. Last year Cook County established a Small Business Development Center to serve the Southland, and this year the President has helped launch a Southland Development Authority to facilitate revitalization in the region.
Cook County will also continue dedicating supplemental funding to shore up the pension fund. To date, Cook County has provided supplemental pension payments of almost $1.3 billion dollars above the required contribution, significantly reducing the unfunded pension liability.
“As many local governments struggle with the weight of unfunded pension liabilities, we continue to dedicate additional funding to forge a path to solvency and security,” President Preckwinkle said. “We are dedicating supplemental funding to shore up the pension fund to the tune of over $300 million annually and it is making a difference.”
All FY2020 budget information has been posted to the Cook County website, allowing the public to review documents and engage with the President’s Office directly. The budget website has recently been overhauled and now provides interactive historic data and detailed budget information. This immersive budget portal will enhance residents’ access and understanding of budget information and County finances.