President Preckwinkle: FY 16 County Budget is ‘Reasonable, Responsible’

The Cook County Board of Commissioners today approved the FY 16 budget, a comprehensive plan to increase efficiency, cut the County’s tax-supported expenditures by almost $112 million and address long-term fiscal challenges.

The approximately $4.2 billion operating budget is highlighted by significant initiatives advanced by President Toni Preckwinkle. 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,” 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 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. 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 closely 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.

“I am thankful for the hard work of Finance Committee Chairman John Daley, the Board of Commissioners, separately elected officials and residents who attended our public hearings as we developed this balanced and responsible budget,” Preckwinkle said. “ I am further grateful to members of my finance team, who have spent many hours over these past weeks and months developing this budget in a very difficult fiscal environment.”

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/.