Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday introduced an $8 billion budget for 2022, that includes no tax increases and would spend nearly two-thirds of the county’s $1 billion in COVID relief funds to start or expand programs to aid the poor.
The county would spend more than $1 billion more next year than in 2021, with higher than expected tax revenues and federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act closing an expected $120 million budget hole. The relatively small budget gap, roughly a third of the $410 million deficit the county faced in 2020, leaves much of the county’s $1 billion in federal COVID aid available for “investments” in programs intended to aid the needy recover from the economic ills of the pandemic, Preckwinkle said in a brief budget address.
“Today, I can stand here and say because of our decade of prudent fiscal management, we are once again in a position to not raise taxes this year,” Preckwinkle said. “We will not hit residents in their pocketbooks during these uncertain and unimaginable times.”
County commissioners are scheduled to take up a vote on the budget as soon as November.
Hours after receiving a copy of the budget proposal, Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said he had not spotted any serious concerns with the spending plan.
“It looks to be a good news budget for county taxpayers,” Msall said. “There’s no tax increase, no property tax increase, no layoffs, there are efficiencies that are starting show, and significant reserves in place.”
Msall said the civic watchdog will do a deeper analysis and wanted to see more detail on a 7% increase in the number of full-time employees in the budget, and whether the positions can be sustained once COVID relief funds are spent.
Preckwinkle noted that the COVID funds can be spent over up to three years. A budget presentation slide show shows spending of $333 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act each year through 2024, with $100 million of the spending in 2022 going to cover revenue losses.
The largest chuck of the county’s ARPA funds, $80 million, will go to “Vital Communities” programs, which will fund housing support and small business loans, as well as a pilot guaranteed income program that will give direct cash benefits to needy county residents. Another $60 million will go for healthcare programs, $60 million to public safety programs including violence prevention programs and alternative responses for mental health calls.