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Cook County Board passes $5.9 billion budget — with no new taxes

Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. | Sun-Times

The Cook County 2019 budget — with no new taxes, no fee hikes and no layoffs — sailed through the Finance Committee and the Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously Thursday.

The good-news, $5.9 billion budget includes 16 amendments allowing Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to create more patrol positions in suburban Cook County as well as on the South and West sides; there’s also money for the county’s 2020 Census efforts.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle noted that while commissioners “had our thoughtful differences” on how to balance revenues and expenses, on Thursday they did their “fundamental duty” by passing a balanced budget.

“This budget builds on the progress we’ve made to reform and reshape Cook County into a government that truly serves all of its residents,” Preckwinkle said. “I believe the budget we passed today will protect those services — especially public health and public safety, our two critical service delivery areas.”

In June, county officials projected a roughly $82 million budget hole for 2019 and a $95 million deficit for the county’s operating funds in 2020, creating a rough fiscal forecast for the next two years.

Then, in October, the 2019 gap was suddenly closed when revenue growth exceeded projections for the general fund (by $46 million) and the health enterprise fund (by $58 million).

All 15 members present voted ‘aye’ — two members, U.S. Rep.-elect Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Jerry “Iceman” Butler, were absent.

It’s the last time seven of those commissioners will get to vote on a budget, having lost bids for re-election.

The sole commissioner to take their allotted time to speak on the budget was outgoing John Fritchey, D-Chicago, who warned of choppy fiscal waters ahead.

“I would like just to recognize, and make sure everybody takes note of the fact that this budget adds a few hundred new positions. It adds a number of those positions by virtue of approximately $11 million in TIF [tax-increment financing] funds that we’re receiving through the city,” Fritchey said. “The budgets ahead, while I won’t be here for them, are going to be very difficult. This county is looking at a projected $200-million-plus deficit over the next several years that will take some very, very difficult choices.”

Budget director Tanya Anthony said projections for next year show the county will face a $49 million gap. Preckwinkle said the $200 million figure could come from looking at budget projections over the next several years.

“Commissioner Fritchey’s comments were somewhat correct in that we do need to make sure that we are being careful about our spending, which we continue to do by making structural changes,” Anthony said. “They were a little dire, a little more dire than the projections … but we are being very careful and mindful of our spending moving forward.”

Thursday’s budget passage comes a little over two weeks before the county fiscal year begins Dec. 1. New — and returning — commissioners will be sworn in Dec. 3.