Unless the tenor of negotiations shifts in Washington, D.C., the feds are not coming to save Cook County from a multi-year budget chasm that grows wider every day, county officials said Wednesday.
The situation looks grimmer now for county leaders than it did two months ago, when Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki was projecting a $200 million drop-off in revenue for 2020 and the U.S. House of Representatives had just passed a $3 trillion aid package that would have set aside roughly $1 trillion to reimburse state and local governments for lost revenues.
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That proposal went nowhere in the U.S. Senate, and now the county is “on track to lose more than $300 million” in revenue “by the end of this year,” Rizki told commissioners during a meeting of the Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee on Wednesday.
Rizki fielded questions Wednesday on how his team is working to stretch $429 million the county received from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) approved by Congress in March. Commissioners approved a plan earlier this month to pass along about $51 million of the county’s portion to suburban municipalities, but the county may only use the funds to offset expenses directly relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. That includes hazard pay for county employees like sheriff’s deputies who work the quarantine division of the Cook County Jail and nurses who treat coronavirus patients at Stroger Hospital, but none for other employees who caught the virus on the job, Rizki said.
All CARES dollars are required to be spent by Dec. 30, but that deadline may be extended under future guidance from U.S. Treasury officials, Rizki said. Officials are especially hoping to extend the benefits through next year if Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and county leaders across the country come up short in their efforts to lobby Congress for another rescue package that reimburses counties for lost revenues.
U.S. Senate Republicans debuted a $1 trillion Covid-19 aid package this week, but it does not include any funding for state or local governments.
Preckwinkle joined a press conference Wednesday organized by the National Association of Counties, where she said she is “hopeful that the federal government will pass another package that prioritizes flexibility” and “provides for lost revenue” incurred by local governments across the country.
Her budget team is still holding out hope for a new rescue package, but they’re not holding their breath, Rizki said Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, we are not expecting any additional money, so this is it,” Rizki said. “We have to make sure that we are allocating this in a very responsible manner.”
His warning will be hanging over county commissioners as they’re asked to approve a flurry of new contracts, grants, legal payments, tax breaks and union-negotiated pay raises during their board meeting on Thursday. It is the last time the board is scheduled to meet until Sept. 24.
Commissioners are scheduled Thursday to consider dozens of proposals involving expenditures or tax incentives, including the following:
20-2759 — A $7 million payment to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that health staffers at Cook County Jail waited 24 hours or longer to give detainees critical medications.
20-3309 — A $5.6 million, two-year contract between the county’s Justice Advisory Council and four nonprofit organizations to provide housing for jail detainees who are released on electronic monitoring but have “no place to stay.”
20-3391 — A $1.7 million loan to Ross Financial Services of Northbrook to support construction of a 70-unit affordable senior housing development.
20-3078 — A $1.5 million settlement paid to Magdalena Milgrom, who sued the county in 2019 alleging medical malpractice.
20-3177 — An approximately $1.2 million payment to Avenu Insights and Analytics to settle pre-litigation contractual disputes related to the Cook County Recorder of Deed’s office. Comm. Bridget Degnen (D-12) voted against approving the settlement when it came before the Finance Committee on Wednesday.
20-0576 — A resolution approving union-negotiated wage increases for 37 different construction positions represented by the Coalition of Unionized Public Employees.
20-3341 — Renewal of a class 7C tax incentive for Heidner Family Limited Partnership for a vacant property at 5611 S. Archer Ave. in Summit.
20-3333 — A class 8 property tax incentive for Eagle Gun Club to open a “gun club and range” at 5900 W. 159th St. in Oak Forest.
20-3334 — A class 7C property tax incentive for Gina Bertolini of Grayhawk 4, LLC to open an ice-skating rink and pizza café at 1501 Feehanville Dr. in Mount Prospect.
20-3339 — A class 6B tax property tax incentive for Stratton Hats, Inc. for a blighted property at 3200 W. Randolph St. in Bellwood.
The board is also scheduled to take up the following items unrelated to budget matters:
20-2867 — The “Justice for Black Lives” resolution sponsored by Comm. Brandon Johnson (D-1), which calls for the county to reallocate funding away from law enforcement. The resolution passed the board’s Criminal Justice Committee in a 16-1 vote on Monday.
20-3460 — An ordinance sponsored by Comm. Stanley Moore (D-4) making Juneteenth an official Cook County holiday, accompanied by a resolution (20-3476) calling for the same. Chicago Ald. Maria Hadden (49) introduced a similar ordinance in the City Council, but it was rejected by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
20-3482 — A resolution from Comm. Kevin Morrison (D-15) requesting that the board’s Criminal Justice Committee hold monthly hearings with leaders of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
20-3328 — An ordinance requiring county building officials to create an electronic registration system for anyone applying for construction permits in unincorporated Cook County.
20-3435 — A resolution by Comm. Scott Britton (D-14) endorsing the “10 shared principles” of police reform published by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. Britton said this week that he will push for suburban police departments as well as the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s police force to adopt the principles.
20-3366 — An ordinance adding qualification requirements for the Cook County Auditor.
20-2577 — A “Save Our Seniors” resolution calling for improved Covi-19 testing, transparency and work conditions at nursing homes.
20-2906 — A resolution summoning Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough for a hearing on “voting equity” in the November election.
20-3428 — Appointment of Raul Garza to the Cook County Health Board of Directors.
20-3431 — Appointment of Joseph Harrington to the Cook County Health Board of Directors.
20-3433 — Appointment of Robert Currie to the Cook County Health Board of Directors.
20-3452 — Reappointment of Romayne C Brown to the Metra Board of Directors.
20-3450 — Reappointment of Thomas Szromba to the Cook County Board of Ethics.