Cook County projects budget shortfall

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle talks about the county’s finances during a 2020 budget address. The county budget for the upcoming fiscal year is forecast to be $8.7 billion, the largest budget in county history. (Photo courtesy of Cook County)

Cook County is projecting a $85 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2024, but residents are not expected to see any more money coming out of their pockets to cover the gap.

In a budget presentation Wednesday, June 21, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told reporters that no new revenue streams are being pondered to make up the projected shortfall.

“No tax hike is being contemplated,” Preckwinkle said. “We’ll be able to do this.”

For perspective, at the height of the pandemic, the county’s budget gap was $409 million.

The board president noted that the projected $85 million gap is one of the smallest in her administration’s history and one she credits to the diligent work of county employees.

“Years of hard work have put us in a strong fiscal position,” Preckwinkle said in prepared remarks regarding the county’s preliminary fiscal forecast. “This is one of the smaller gaps of my administration and we are proud of what we have done to create this sturdy financial foundation.

“We have done this while shoring up Cook County pensions, expanding equity, managing pandemic relief and navigating the ever-changing national economic climate.”

The county’s fiscal year runs from Dec. 1-Nov. 30.

The county’s health systems budget is expected to finish with a $402 million surplus at the end of the next fiscal year. The county’s general fund is forecast to end up with a $215 million surplus.

County financial officials said while either fund could easily cover the projected overall $85 million deficit, it has not been the government agency’s policy to just transfer funds to cover the debt. The county continues to keep three months of operating expenses in cash reserves. The county is more likely to use annual budget surplus on one-time expenses like construction or equipment, officials said.

Much of the projected overall deficit is expected to be covered through salaries for unfilled positions.

Tanya Anthony, chief financial officer for the county’s Bureau of Finance, said coming out of the pandemic the county had 4,000 job vacancies in 2022.

“The numbers are about the same as last year,” Anthony said of current vacancies in county government.

Preckwinkle credited county employees with keeping service levels up despite less people on the payroll.

“We’ve done a good job considering the amount of vacancies,” she said. “People with us have done a good job filling in the gaps. We are trying to fill the vacancies to take the burden off the folks who have done yeoman’s service.”

The Cook County Board president said the government agency remains 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.

Preckwinkle said Cook County officials will be meeting with state leaders Friday, June 23 to see what help the state can provide the county, which is spending $1.8 million each month on the health care of asylum seekers living in Cook.

Israel Rocha, chief executive officer of Cook County Health, said the additional monthly expense for asylum seekers’ health care includes extra staffing, testing, supplies, care of the individuals’ social and behavioral needs, and getting kids ready for school physicals.

“These are exhaustive visits,” Rocha said of the asylum seekers’ health care.

Preckwinkle, a former history teacher, said she feels deeply indebted to the people who work the county’s financial numbers on an annual basis and looked back on how the county has gotten through rough times.

“We have made hard decisions along the way,” she said. “We raised the sales tax in 2015 to meet our pension obligation … We had to deal with rigorous burdens in responding to the pandemic.”

A virtual public hearing on the preliminary budget forecast will take place at 6 p.m. July 11. Residents will have an opportunity to provide testimony and engage directly with Preckwinkle’s office on their budget priorities.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday, June 22, residents can visit to view the preliminary forecast.

Residents can submit budget questions at