Outlining an optimistic budget recovering from the financial strain of the coronavirus pandemic, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today released the preliminary forecast for the County’s Fiscal Year 2022 showing a projected gap of approximately $121.4 million. This is a sharp decline from the nearly $410 million projected gap in FY2021, as a combination of rebounding revenues, Federal relief and prudent financial management have contributed to the encouraging budget picture. The $121.4 million projected gap marks one of the smallest gaps since Preckwinkle took office despite the financial challenges caused by the pandemic.
The preliminary forecast report presents a mid-year projection of year-end revenues and expenses for FY2021 and an initial forecast for FY2022 revenues and expenses for the General Fund and Health Enterprise Fund, the County’s two major operating funds.
“It has not been easy, and it is far from over, but we’ve been deliberate in our COVID planning, provided hundreds of thousands of shots, pumped millions of dollars into local governments and economic development and were prudent in our budgeting. Our work is paying off,” President Preckwinkle said. “It has been an exceptionally difficult last year but a combination of revenue bouncing back as the County opens up, Federal funding and careful budgeting over the last 10 years have us well positioned to bring Cook County back stronger than ever.”
Preckwinkle announced a projected operating positive variance of nearly $60 million in the General Fund for the end of FY2021 driven primarily by increased County Clerk fees due to a strong housing market, federal reimbursement for expenses, and savings in salaries due to slower than anticipated hiring.
The FY2022 outlook includes a projected shortfall of $60.3 million in the General Fund, down from $222.2 million at the same time last year. Revenues are forecasted to be $80.5 million above the FY2021 adopted budget due to the expected economic rebound in a fully re-opened Illinois while expenses are forecasted to be $140.8 million above FY2021 adopted budget due to expected increases in personnel.
Despite the challenge of providing most of the charity care in the County, the County health system expects a positive variance of $30.6 million for the end of FY2021 driven by a number of factors including increases in CountyCare membership, enhanced revenue collection, vendor contract savings, and savings from the timing of hiring. For FY2022, CCH expects a budget gap of $61.1 million driven by natural growth in pharmacy, lab and personnel expenses.
Preckwinkle added that responsible fiscal practices and efforts to create structural budget savings implemented since taking office better positioned the County to weather the severe financial storm caused by the pandemic. These fiscally prudent practices have helped address growing legacy debt service costs, pension appropriations and highway infrastructure needs. Cook County has provided supplemental pension payments of more than $1.9 billion while increasing infrastructure funding and legacy debt service payments in the last four fiscal years.
“We still have our work cut out for ourselves, but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter everyday” said Preckwinkle. “The favorable state of our finances has been made possible through a decade of hard work. Every year since I took office, we have filled our budget gaps using sustainable fiscal practices and we will continue to do so while we work with commissioners and the separately elected officials in the coming months.”
A virtual public hearing on the preliminary forecast will take place at 6 p.m. on July 7. 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 livestream the public hearing and residents can use social media to ask questions.
Beginning Thursday at 9 a.m., residents can visit the County’s website at www.cookcountyil.gov/Budget to view the preliminary forecast. Residents can also now submit budget questions at https://www.cookcountyil.gov/service/submit-budget-questions.