Cook County's $262 million budget surplus could cover next year's expected shortfall
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the preliminary $8.1 billion budget for the upcoming 2023 fiscal year shows an $18.2 million shortfall.
But Preckwinkle, who is seeking her fourth term at the helm of the county this year, said there would be no new fees, taxes or layoffs to cover that deficit.
That's likely due to the $262 million surplus the county is expecting at the end of this fiscal year.
"We entered into this very difficult pandemic period on a really strong financial footing, and as a result we've been able to weather it a lot better than other local governments," Preckwinkle said Wednesday during a virtual budget presentation with reporters. "We're going to figure out how we can be more effective with the resources we have."
While touting the expected shortfall as the lowest during her tenure, she and other county finance officials downplayed the potential for the county's reserves to increase to nearly $900 million by the end of the current fiscal year in November.
That would push the county's reserves to more than five months of county operating expenses. While the county doesn't cap its reserves, officials said board policy is to maintain reserves at about three months of operating expenses, or about $500 million.
Preckwinkle also announced an ambitious set of programs using nearly $1 billion in promised federal pandemic relief funds. These initiatives would require an increase in county personnel. The county's head count ballooned to more than 23,400 this year, up nearly 7.3% from 2021, county records show.
County finance officials said the majority of new hires were in the health care sector.
Officials also noted the federal funds could also be used to plug the preliminary budget gap as well.
Preckwinkle said a state plan to forgo a rate hike on motor fuel taxes for the next six months has been taken into account for the upcoming budget, but the county has no additional plans to reduce tax rates on motor fuel costs that have essentially doubled for motorists in Illinois over the past year.
Additionally, she was unaware of any initiatives being undertaken to reduce fuel consumption by the county's vehicle fleet other than a "long-term strategy to have more reliance on electric vehicles."
The county board will debate Preckwinkle's budget proposal at upcoming committee hearings before ultimately being finalized before the start of the new fiscal year in December.