The Better Government Association (BGA) congratulates the Cook County Board for getting through a challenging budget cycle. It was refreshing to see agency heads publicly pressed to find savings and efficiencies.

We are posting this information in the Cook County Board’s new witness slipping system. The BGA would like to highlight for commissioners and county officials a few of our continuing concerns about budgeting and county operations:

  • Commissioners must take the lead in monitoring the effect of these budget cuts and make sure agency heads are acting in good faith, with the proper level of resources needed to meet the public’s expectations. In particular, while a leaner government is welcome, commissioners need to oversee the system to ensure that cuts do not damage the county’s ability to provide legally mandated services and meet the public’s expectation of service quality.

  • The efforts of the past month addressed an immediate crisis. The BGA urges the board to re-channel their energy and, today, commit to prioritizing the long-term health of the county’s budget by:

    1. Renewing efforts to annex unincorporated areas and special districts. Both the Civic Federation and the BGA recently have called on you to revisit these efforts. If unincorporated areas are not annexed, taxes and fees aimed at these locations can better address the cost of servicing them.

    2. Looking again at services that would benefit from more city and county collaboration. As the BGA noted in October, efforts from 2011 to 2013 produced clear benefits, but this work was not sustained on an official level beyond the first few years.

    3. Looking at personnel costs. The Civic Federation pointed out that personnel accounts for 82.9% of the General Fund, much of which is union labor. The BGA supports more transparency in collective bargaining. We call on the county to release more information to commissioners and the public, and sooner, so that we all can understand the tradeoffs and compromises that were made before the contracts are approved.

    4. Reviewing the county’s basket of revenues. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability pointed out that more than 30 percent of FY2017 revenues come from sources that are growing more slowly than inflation. Other sources of revenue, like taxes from cigarettes, are declining because fewer people are making those purchases. Commissioners face the same choice for FY2019 as they did when eight of you voted in the sweetened beverage tax in November of 2016. Identify new sources of revenue, find efficiencies, and/or cut services. That’s a conversation that needs to start now.