November 21, 2023
The Cook County Board of Commissioners approved the final FY2024 Cook County budget on Thursday, Nov. 16 for the fiscal year beginning on December 1. The most significant change from the proposed version of the budget was the addition of a $100 million Disaster Response and Recovery Fund to support Cook County’s response to the migrant crisis and prepare for other emergencies as they arise. Of that amount, $70 million will go to the Cook County Health and Hospitals System to cover the cost of migrant healthcare above the amount already incorporated into the proposed budget. Another $20 million will be allocated to disaster response as needed in suburban Cook County, including migrant services, and $10 million will be set aside for other disaster response such as flash flooding or other extreme weather events. The funding for the $100 million Disaster Response and Recovery Fund will come from unassigned fund balance available in the County’s General Fund as the result of prior year surpluses.
Civic Federation Acting President Sarah Wetmore testified before the Cook County Board of Commissioners prior to the approval of the budget to convey the Federation’s key concerns and recommendations regarding the proposal for the 2024 fiscal year. The Civic Federation released its findings and recommendations in an analysis of the budget last week. The report was prepared for consideration by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and her administration, the Cook County Board of Commissioners and the general public.
The Civic Federation expressed support of the Cook County proposed FY2024 budget, due to Cook County’s pension reform legislation, prudent financial management, long-term planning and appropriate use of excess reserves. The County has a plan in place for the sustainability of ARPA programs after federal funds are expended. The budget also does not increase any taxes or fees. However, the Federation is concerned about staffing shortages, which are driving up the cost of contractual labor, and the increasing dependency of General Fund operations on economically sensitive revenues like the sales tax as the result of transportation tax revenue constraints.
The full report is available at civicfed.org/CookCountyFY2024.
The Civic Federation supports the Cook County FY2024 Executive Budget Recommendation of $9.1 billion. It continues the Preckwinkle Administration’s track record of prudent financial management. The budget reflects the County’s ongoing post-pandemic recovery, with strong revenue projections in FY2024. The work the County has done over the past several years to conduct long-term fiscal planning and implement financial policies has put the budget in a strong financial position and enabled the County to build up a healthy general operating reserve.
Cook County also achieved a major legislative accomplishment this year through the passage of landmark pension funding legislation in State Public Act 103-0529. The legislation authorizes the County to make pension contributions based on the actuarial needs of the fund using a best-practice funding schedule with at 100% funding goal, allows contributions to be funded through any revenue source and resolves an issue with pensions for Tier 2 employees potentially falling out of compliance with federal Safe Harbor rules.
The FY2024 budget proposal represents an increase in spending of $356.8 million, or 4.1%, from the FY2023 adopted budget of $8.8 billion. While the budget cuts 414 vacant personnel positions, expenditures are increasing due in large part to salary increases driven by collective bargaining agreements. The budget includes no increases to taxes or fees.
The Civic Federation commends the County on several aspects of the budget proposal, including the planned use of excess reserves, long-term financial planning and forecasting efforts, plans to evaluate and dedicate funding to sustaining ARPA-funded programs, and transit planning efforts as a key stakeholder in the future of the Chicago region’s public transit system. The County plans to use some of its excess operating reserves to set aside an ARPA sustainability reserve fund to support programs created with the $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding the County received.
There are, however, some fiscal pressures on the County’s budget. The shifting of transportation tax revenues away from the General Fund into a separate Transportation Fund in order to comply with a 2016 Illinois constitutional amendment (the Transportation Lockbox, or Safe Roads Amendment) makes the General Fund more reliant on sales tax and other economically sensitive revenues. The County also has lingering staffing shortages, especially within the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, which are driving up contractual labor costs.
The Civic Federation calls on the Cook County Board of Commissioners and President’s Office to consider two longstanding recommendations to address unincorporated areas and to create a unified property tax administration office. The Federation also recommends that Cook County Health include the full subsidy provided by the County to the health system through pension contributions and debt service, as well as past year expenditures, in the CCH annual proposed budget.
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