Cook County officials may have to fill a roughly $82 million budget hole for 2019, according to a preliminary forecast of the county’s finances released Tuesday.
Budget officials are also projecting a $95 million deficit for the county’s operating funds in 2020, potentially setting the stage for two, rough fiscal years.
Those holes in the county’s operating fund — which is comprised of the general and health funds — will mean county officials have their “work cut out” for them, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in brief remarks before the presentation. This is the lowest budget gap since she has taken office.
“We will work with commissioners and the separately elected officials in the coming months to examine any areas where we can increase efficiencies, reduce costs and ultimately close this budget gap,” Preckwinkle said in a statement.
The deficits are related to a lack of new revenue sources to keep up with county spending. The most recent revenue source introduced was the county’s controversial sweetened beverage tax.
Its repeal in October created a roughly $200 million gap in the 2018 budget that was filled by a combination of layoffs, closing vacant positions and furlough days.
The roughly $82 million gap for 2019 is largely comprised of a $62.9 million increase in spending for the county’s general fund — offset by a $10.5 million increase in expected revenue associated with national economic trends and a reduction in a sales tax administrative fee implemented by the state last year. That leaves the total gap associated with the General Fund at $52.3 million.
The other part of the gap is a $619 million increase in spending for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System for 2019. Revenues are expected to increase by $589.5 million, leaving a $29.5 million expected deficit for the 2019 fiscal year.
To address the 2019 budget gap, Tanya Anthony, the county’s budget director, said structural solutions, such as eliminating positions or programs would be considered over one-time solutions, such as furlough days.
It was too early to say how many layoffs county departments may face for the 2019 fiscal year or if any layoffs may be needed at all, the county’s Chief Financial Officer, Ammar Rizki, said.
For the rest of 2018, the county’s general fund is expected to be on track with expectations, and the county’s operating fund will have a roughly $600,000 surplus in the county’s operating fund.
The health fund is expected to overspend by roughly $2.3 million.
Officials at the county’s hospitals system are “looking at all accounts to end the year favorably,” Anthony said.
The release of the forecast is one of the first steps in the county’s budget process. In July, the public will be able to attend a hearing July 12 on the preliminary forecast before mid-year budget hearings.
The goal is to have a budget approved before Dec. 1, the start of the 2019 fiscal year.