An ordinance authorizing up to $375 million in general obligation bonds was introduced by Board President Toni Preckwinkle Wednesday. The issuance planned for June 1, 2016, “would permit the refunding of approximately $330 million of Series 2006A Bonds, which currently are subject to an average interest cost of 4.83%,” the President’s Office said. “The Refunding Bonds that would be issued are anticipated to have a blended cost of capital below 4%. This is expected to provide reduced interest cost savings of approximately $20 million and is part of the County’s long-term plan for managing debt service.” The senior manager is Loop Capital Markets LLC, Barclays Capital Inc.

Last June, Moody’s downgraded the County’s general obligation debt to A2 from A1 with a negative outlook, citing the county’s unfunded pension liability and pressures on the County’s tax base from CPS and the City of Chicago. The downgrade also cited strain from the Cook County Health and Hospitals System on the County’s general operating fund.

Some of those concerns were addressed in the FY16 budget. The County’s allocation to CCHHS has gone down by 75 percent since FY09. It was $481 million then, and is $125 million for this fiscal year. Commissioners have also voted to begin contributing actuarially required funding to County pensions. They will use part of the proceeds of the County’s sales tax hike to make those increased payments.   

Property Tax Exemption

property tax break exemption sailed through the board Wednesday, allowing employees who worked for the former owner of a property to be eligible for the Class 7C tax break. The current owner or employer who can prove they weren’t responsible for site contamination can also be eligible for the break. A 7C break gives new construction or rehabilitation a reduced property tax assessment for five years–10% for the first three years, 15% for the fourth year, 20% for the fifth year, then returning to the 25% assessment afterward. Comm. Larry Suffredin said the speedy passage ahead of the next board meeting was for “exigent purposes,” a pending 7C break. 

New Local Business Bid Incentives

A doubling in bid incentives for local businesses was one of many introductions from Comm. Richard Boykin Wednesday. This ordinance amends the County’s procurement code to give local companies an even bigger advantage in the bidding process. The preamble offers the justification that “spending public dollars with Cook County businesses serves the sound policy of increasing employment, fostering economic development and strengthening the economy of the County.”

The amendment compels the county’s procurement office to choose local bidders as long as their bid is no more than 10 percent higher than the lowest non-local bid, or if the lowest bidder receives Earned Credit, the local bid doesn’t exceed that credited bid by more than 7.5%. Boykin introduced a series of job creation measures Wednesday, funded by a $0.04 hike in the gas tax.

County Employee Retirement Savings Loans

A resolution to start allowing Cook County employees to loan themselves retirement savings was introduced by Comm. Luis Arroyo, Jr. His resolution asks the county’s Deferred Compensation Committee to work with the County’s deferred compensation plan administrators to establish a loan provision option in the county’s retirement fund, which has more than $1.2 billion in it. The preamble to Arroyo’s resolution says other governments have opened up the option of letting employees borrow against their own contribution to make down payments on homes, reduce credit card debt, or pay for tuition. “Employees who take a loan, are borrowing from their own Plan account with no credit check, easy approval and repayment of the loan, plus competitive interest rates back to their own Plan account in monthly installments within a specified period of time.” Arroyo would like to see a plan by the end of the 3rd Quarter of this fiscal year.

New Unincorporated Cook Landlord Fee

A $50 per year, per unit renter’s license for landlords in unincorporated Cook County would be mandated starting next summer, under a proposal from Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Rentals would be subject to inspection every four years from the Department of Building and Zoning to ensure compliance with local building and zoning regulations codes, and the county’s Public Health and Private Nuisance Ordinance. According to a 2014 Civic Federation report, approximately 2.4%, or 126,114, of Cook County’s 5.2 million residents live in unincorporated areas of the County.

Animal Abuse Registry

An animal abuse registry is being pitched by Commissioners John Fritchey andLuis Arroyo, Jr. “The number of cruelty cases reported daily on various media sources is not reflective of the actual number of cases, as most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated,” theordinance’s preamble says. It creates a registry of animal abusers that will be maintained by the Sheriff’s Department. No shelter, pet shop, pet seller, or rescue organization would be able to transfer ownership of any animal to someone listed on the offender list, or someone living with an abuser. The ordinance would take effect November 1, 2016. Comm. Fritchey has been a frequent critic of the County’s Animal Control agency, and also introduced an ordinance putting the Sheriff’s office in charge of enforcing the ordinance regulating pet sales, instead of Animal Control.