(COOK COUNTY, IL) Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today released the preliminary forecast for the County's Fiscal Year 2023 showing a projected gap of $18.2 million. This represents the County's smallest budget gap since President Preckwinkle took office over a decade ago.
Despite the unique difficulties of the last three years between the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation and numerous other global and local challenges as well as the specter of a recession, this represents almost a 97% decline from the nearly $410 million projected gap during the height of the pandemic.
This encouraging budget picture is a result of a combination of federal relief, one-time revenues, prudent financial management and a tight labor market. The preliminary forecast report presents a mid-year projection of year-end revenues and expenses for FY2022 and an initial forecast for FY2023 revenues and expenses for the General Fund and Health Enterprise Fund, the County's two major operating funds.
"In the face of multiple economic risks, Cook County has had its bond rating upgraded, has continued making supplemental pension payments to put the County's pension fund on a path towards sustainability, has built up a manageable reserve fund for difficult days ahead and developed hundreds of millions of dollars in equity programs and pandemic relief all while putting forward balanced budgets with no increases to existing taxes," said President Preckwinkle. "I am proud our responsible fiscal practices have put us in a position to endure these financial hardships while providing vital services to millions of residents through balanced and equitable budgeting."
Preckwinkle noted the County continues to put itself on solid financial footing while also making major investments in small business assistance, emergency rental programs, violence prevention, environmental improvements, infrastructure upgrades, economic development and digital equity in FY2023.
Federal Pandemic Relief
Cook County directly received over $1 billion from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and has coordinated an extensive process to develop a responsible, comprehensive and equitable spending plan. Over the next three-to-five years, the County will be investing $700 million, roughly 70% of the federal funds received, in community programs for County residents and businesses.
By prioritizing equity throughout the budgeting process, Cook County is strategically investing in communities using a holistic approach to support both immediate recovery needs and long-term transformative initiatives. This includes the nation's largest publicly funded guaranteed income initiative, millions of dollars for economic development and small business grant programs as well as housing assistance, utility bill assistance and seed funding work to abolish medical debt. Hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding will be going to healthcare and health access initiatives, justice initiatives, violence prevention programs, infrastructure improvements and environmental projects.
Equity and Inclusion Fund
Understanding the disproportionate impact on underserved communities and to address historic disparities and disinvestments in Black, Latine, and other marginalized communities, the County is also taking important steps to build an Equity and Inclusion Fund, which is a part of Cook County's equity-based investments totaling over $100 million since FY2021. This fund aims to create safe, healthy and thriving communities in Cook County by reimagining and transforming systems around justice, public safety, health, housing, economic opportunity, community development, and social services to benefit Black and Brown communities and proactively invest resources to achieve equitable outcomes — work that will all continue into FY2023.
Preckwinkle also noted that Cook County has paid over $2 billion above the state's statutory payment formula. The Pension Fund's funded ratio has increased to over 67% since implementing this additional pension payment. This commitment to increased payments, even throughout the pandemic, has the County's pension fund on track to reach 100% funding by 2047.
Overview of FY2022 Year-End and FY2023 Preliminary Forecast
For the FY2022 year-end, the County projects positive net results of $233.4 million in the General Fund. This positive budget variance can primarily be attributed to inflationary impacts on certain tax collections while a robust housing market has led to increases in fee collections for the County Clerk. Other contributing factors include increases in one-time revenues collected by the State of Illinois and distributed to local governments, unanticipated growth in late property tax payments and the national trend of longer hiring timeframes increasing payroll savings.
In FY2023, the County is forecasting a budget shortfall of $4.3 million in the General Fund (down from $60.3 million at the same time last year) with revenues forecasted to be $80.4 million above FY2022 adopted budget primarily due to continued positive growth in the County's non-property tax revenue, including sales tax year-over-year. Expenses in the General Fund are forecasted to be $84.7 million above the FY2022 adopted budget due to expected increases in personnel costs and the inflationary impact on the cost for goods and services procured by the County.
While providing most of the charity care in the County and continuing its mighty efforts to combat the pandemic, the County's hospital system expects positive net results of $29.3 million for the FY2022 year-end driven by a number of factors including increases in CountyCare membership, payroll savings due to a tight labor market and federal COVID-19 cost reimbursements. For FY2023, the County's health system forecasts a budget shortfall of $13.9 million driven by expected labor cost increases, the anticipated discontinuance of federal pandemic reimbursements, and reductions in revenue due to CountyCare membership shifting more towards pre-pandemic levels.
"Our work is far from done and we may have to deal with the very real possibility of a recession, but the encouraging state of our finances is because of our willingness to make hard decisions and confront our problems head on," Preckwinkle said. "We will continue this approach as we work with our commissioners and other elected officials in the coming months."
A virtual public hearing on the preliminary forecast will take place at 6 p.m. on July 11. 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 will also be able to submit budget questions at https://www.cookcountyil.gov/service/submit-budget-questions.
Cook County is the second largest county in the United States representing 5.2 million residents in Illinois. The President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Cook County and oversees the Offices Under the President and presides as president of the Forest Preserves of Cook County.