Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released the preliminary forecast for Fiscal Year 2015 during a speech at the City Club of Chicago today.
Since taking office, President Preckwinkle has solved for more than $1.2 billion in combined budget deficits while at the same time returning $1.1 billion to taxpayers by rolling back the 1% County sales tax increase. The coming fiscal year’s projected shortfall is $168.9 million, down from $487 million in FY11.
“I established this preliminary forecast by executive order early in my administration as a means to shed light on the budget process and ensure public input,” President Preckwinkle said. “This initial forecast will guide us as we craft our 2015 budget over the next several months, and we will work with all County stakeholders to ensure we present a balanced budget without raising sales or property taxes.”
In the General Fund, scheduled wage increases and higher costs for health benefits and utilities like gas, electricity and water are driving increased expenditures.
Revenue declines are driven by lower property taxes available to the General Fund due to rising debt service costs, reduced Motor Fuel Tax revenues funding public safety activities, and slower than expected recovery on economically-sensitive revenues such as Recorder of Deeds fees and sales taxes.
The impact of CountyCare, the County’s managed care program that began as an early implementation program of the Affordable Care Act, is a significant driver of changes in the County’s fiscal outlook from 2014 to 2015. The Health Fund anticipates a $384.1 million increase in expenditures along with a $334.0 million increase in revenues primarily due to the full implementation of CountyCare.
“The President has directed our office to increase efficiency and reduce expenditures to produce significant savings while streamlining services,” said Cook County Budget Director Andrea Gibson. President Preckwinkle also encouraged other elected officials to look for ways to reduce costs to offset the projected deficit.
The County is also projecting a year-end shortfall of $85.9 million in 2014, $67 million of which is in the Health Fund. The Cook County Health and Hospitals System has identified several measures to begin to address this shortfall including expanded utilization review, applying for additional pharmacy discounts, and seeking additional federal reimbursements for certain administrative costs. In order to address the remaining shortfall, the President has directed the budget department to look at contract savings, delaying the timing of hiring, and implementing additional overtime mitigation strategies.
President Preckwinkle announced that she will host a public hearing on the preliminary forecast at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 16. in the Cook County Board Room on the 5th floor of 118 N. Clark St.
“We are working hard to make County government more transparent, accountable and accessible. As we craft our budget over the coming months, we want to hear directly from residents on their questions, concerns and priorities,” Preckwinkle said.
Residents will have an opportunity to provide testimony and engage directly with the President’s office on their budget priorities. The President’s office will live-stream the public hearing so residents can use social media to ask questions. Twitter users can use the hashtag “#CCBudget2015” to share their thoughts online during the hearing. Beginning today, residents can visit the County’s budget website at www.cookcountyil.gov/Budget to view the preliminary forecast and access more information about how the County allocates resources.
Championed by President Preckwinkle in her first year in office, the preliminary forecast is a transparency initiative that establishes a timeline and ensures that the County more effectively engages the public in the budget process and produces a balanced budget before the start of the fiscal year.