Residents, organizations weigh in on preliminary Cook County 2024 budget

The preliminary budget shows a projected gap of $85.6 million for next year. At a public hearing, speakers representing various organizations advocated for continued funding of their programs.

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle presides over a Cook County Forest Preserve meeting in December.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has pledged that there will be no new taxes, fees or hikes of any kind to help close a projected budget gap.

Ashlee Rezin /Sun-Times file

Residents and local organizations said Tuesday that Cook County should continue funding programs that tackle community violence, provide care for veterans and ensure food availability in next year’s budget.

Speakers expressed their priorities at a virtual hearing on Cook County’s preliminary budget forecast for fiscal year 2024, details of which were released last month.

The forecast shows a projected gap of $85.6 million next year.

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said there will be no new taxes, fees or hikes of any kind to help close the projected gap. Instead, the county plans to rely on belt-tightening across agencies and departments.

The estimated budget hole of $85.6 million is larger than the $18.2 million gap projected this time last year, but it is one of the county’s smallest deficits in the last decade.

Preckwinkle touted the financial strides the county has made in her opening remarks at the hearing.

“Over the last several years Cook County has experienced the pandemic, stubborn inflation, economic uncertainty and numerous other global and local issues,” Preckwinkle said. “Despite these unprecedented circumstances, strong financial management and responsible budgeting have positioned Cook County to navigate these difficult times while providing essential and equitable services to our more than 5 million residents.”

Speakers representing organizations like the Greater Chicago Food Depository detailed their partnerships with the county and hoped they could continue that collaboration next year and count on continued funding.

“We work closely with Cook County health staff to alleviate hunger throughout the county,” said Hillary Caron, senior policy adviser at the depository. “As you begin the fiscal-year 2024 budget process we urge you to continue investing in this important work that we’ve achieved together.”

Lisa Daniels, founder and executive director of the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices — an organization that helps communities impacted by gun violence and incarceration — said the funding provided by the county greatly helps their work.

“Sustaining our impact and expanding our reach relies on the continued support and funding provided by Cook County,” Daniels said, adding that the funding “plays a vital role in enabling us to implement and deliver” the organization’s programs effectively. “It supports the provision of individualized services, ensuring that each participant receives the tailored support they need to overcome their unique challenges.”

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, advocated for funding of the Cook County Small Business Source, which provides small businesses with no-cost business advice, resources and access to events.

“Restaurants and bars have been hit particularly hard over the past few years,” Toia said. “Most restaurants are facing two years of debt, higher food costs, supply issues and staffing challenges. Throughout all this, the Cook County Small Business Source has been a vital source of guidance, support and stability to thousands of small businesses.”

John DeGroot, Veterans of Foreign Wars service officer, said the Veterans Assistance Commission of Cook County — a nonprofit that provides social services and emergency financial assistance to veterans — is in need of more funding.

“The VACCC is terribly underfunded and understaffed,” DeGroot said. “The budget per veteran is less than $2.73, where other counties average $16 per veteran.”

The expected budget hole next year has been largely pinned by county leaders on a big drop in revenue from a business income tax. They say that’s due to changes in how the state doles out this money.

The county received $184 million from this pot in 2022. But the county expects to receive around $75 million next year.

Cook County commissioners typically vote on the proposed budget for the following year in November.

Contributing: WBEZ reporter Kristen Schorsch

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