Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle presented a proposed $6.9 billion budget for 2021 that addresses the economic fallout from the pandemic without increasing taxes or cutting critical services.
“This 2021 budget is balanced with no tax increases or the need for immediate federal help. This has been in part possible because we have avoided quick fixes and one-time solutions,” said President Preckwinkle. “We’ve done the hard work and heavy lifting. We have instilled sound fiscal discipline since taking office. We were not immune to the financial pressures of the pandemic, but we did the hard work to avoid the need to raise taxes.”
The budget seeks to continue several policies: access to affordable healthcare, violence prevention, economic development and investing in infrastructure. To close the $222.2 million gap in the general fund without the need for new revenue, Preckwinkle said it was a combination of the use of rainy day savings, expenditure holdbacks, federal relief, higher than previously forecasted revenue from new tax sources such as cannabis, gaming, and online sales, and vacancy reductions that helped close the general fund loophole. In addition, personnel expenses were reduced by $61.3 million due to eliminating 69 vacant full-time positions. Preckwinkle also wants a one-time transfer of $77 million from the General fund’s reserve.
Preckwinkle highlighted several important items and investments in the budget that will be moving forward in the coming year:
- The Bureau of Economic Development will be investing an additional $20 million in aid to our business communities and residents in greatest need, with $5 million to expand support for small businesses, increase coaching and training for M/WBEs, build an integrated small business ecosystem, and catalyze innovation in manufacturing. $2 million of the additional investment will go towards workforce training to meet the needs of high demand occupations and upskilling displaced workers. $13 million is going to expand housing assistance and support for legal aid and foreclosure mediation while providing residents with food, utility, and direct cash assistance.
- Cook County will invest an additional $20 million for programs related to justice reform through the Justice Advisory Council (JAC). $5 million will go to various anti-recidivism, violence prevention, restorative justice, and youth development programming. $5 million will go to housing for those being released from the jail population and on electronic monitoring facing housing insecurity and $10 million to additional investments to increase access to justice programs and services.
- $5.8 million in capital investments for the continued development of an integrated property tax system that will make doing business with the County a lot easier for taxpayers.
- With approvals from the Cook County and Metra Boards, we are targeting January for the fair transit pilot program launch to assist residents in the southern portion of our County with more frequent, affordable, and accessible transportation options and ensure that residents on the South Side of Chicago and in the south suburbs have better access to transit.
All FY2021 budget information and a public hearing schedule have been posted to the Cook County website along with a new interactive budget website that provides interactive historic data and detailed budget information. This immersive budget portal will enhance residents’ access and understanding of budget information and County finances. Cook County residents can also now submit budget questions here.
Danielle Sanders is a writer and journalist living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.