Despite staring at a $152.1 million projected deficit in the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2014, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pledged no sales or property tax increases Thursday.
"It is increasingly difficult to reduce expenses and become more efficient," Preckwinkle said. "However, I am confident we will be able to make the tough decisions necessary to balance the budget without raising property or sales taxes."
Last year at this time, the county's preliminary budget featured a $267.5 million deficit. That gap was closed by cuts in some services and personnel as well as an increase in some fees and the creation of new ones.
Driving the deficit this year is an anticipated spike of $52.5 million in personnel costs and another $16.7 million bump in health benefit costs for county employees, Preckwinkle's office reported.
But some of the cost increases are self-inflicted. Preckwinkle's support of a measure to raise the maximum age of those allowed to be incarcerated at the county's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center from 16 years old to 17 years old will add $12 million more to next year's budget, she estimated.
Preckwinkle spokeswoman Kristen Mack said while it costs $143 a day to house someone at the Cook County jail, it costs $616 a day to house someone at the juvenile detention center. Mack said education requirements of the youngsters in the detention center are the main driver of those costs.
Preckwinkle is hopeful those additional costs will spur county officials to focus efforts on alternatives to jail.
The county board has until the end of November to come up with a budget that closes the expected gap.
In addition to next year's financial crunch, Preckwinkle said the county is heading toward ending the year with an $18 million shortfall due to fee and tax revenues falling short of expectations.
Preckwinkle said she is directing offices under her purview to eliminate 20 percent of their vacant positions and is encouraging other countywide elected officials to do the same in their offices. County Treasurer Maria Pappas has already agreed to follow Preckwinkle's lead, Mack said.
Anyone interested in the 2014 budget plan is encouraged to attend a public hearing at 6 p.m. July 11 in the Cook County Board room at 118 N. Clark St. in Chicago.