Your NPR news source
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle during a speech at Crowley’s Boat Yard on the Southeast Side, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. The county is facing an estimated $170 million budget gap next year, officials said Tuesday, nearly double what was projected in June.

Ashlee Rezin

Cook County’s estimated budget gap doubles to about $170 million

Cook County government expects its projected budget gap to nearly double next year due to pay hikes for its roughly 19,000 employees.

In June, county leaders said they expected to start the 2024 budget year with an $86 million gap — one of the smallest financial holes in the last decade. But now that gap is expected to swell to about $170 million, county chief financial officer Tanya Anthony revealed during a budget hearing on Tuesday.

Officials say they do not expect to increase taxes or fees or add new ones, however, saying surplus money and other belt-tightening is expected to cover the gap.

About 60 unions represent county government workers. So far, the county has reached pay hike agreements with 33 unions representing about 10,000 employees, and has approved raises for another 3,500 nonunion workers, a county spokesman said. The county is currently negotiating with another 30 unions that cover about 5,000 employees. But officials said they figured the expected costs of those remaining contract negotiations into the revised deficit figure.

During the budget hearing, Anthony said the salary increases provide more budget certainty and recognize “the important work of labor partners.”

“We didn’t have the hard figures on costs and didn’t want to include any guesses on prospective personnel expenses in our preliminary forecast” in June, Anthony said.

Employees are set to receive a retroactive 3.5% raise dating back to December 2021 and a 5% pay hike mid-year in 2025.

The pay hikes can be used to recruit and retain employees, Anthony said.

The county has been struggling with a persistent workforce shortage. That shortage, which came on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, isn’t unique, but officials see staffing up as key to carrying out the county’s priorities in spending $1 billion in pandemic relief dollars. Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s initiatives include launching a guaranteed income program and erasing up to $1 billion in medical debt. In June, Preckwinkle said staffing up was among her biggest challenges.

The county Board of Commissioners are hosting hearings this week to learn how various agency and department leaders are doing financially about halfway through the current budget year and where they might be headed next year.

Commissioners oversee the county jail, courts and large hospital and clinic system called Cook County Health. Currently, the county has a nearly $9 billion budget.

Commissioners typically approve next year’s proposed budget in late fall. The new fiscal year begins Dec. 1.

Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County for WBEZ.

The Latest
Harris’ campaign called the governor to discuss the No. 2 spot on Wednesday, a source told the Sun-Times. “I’d be reluctant to make a change, but it’d be hard to resist a call and consideration if the nominee called me to ask to be considered for vice president,” Pritzker said on CNN.
The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence typically releases its annual report in October but was so alarmed by the findings, it decided to publish the 2023 report months earlier.
The rally in West Allis, just outside Milwaukee, came a day after the vice president earned the support of enough delegates to secure the nomination, which is expected to come formally in early August via a virtual roll call.
Individual members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. — whose headquarters are in Chicago — have begun mobilizing in masses to support their “soror” in the historic race for president.
Some major donors signaled their distress about Biden staying in the race by declining to write more checks or host events. That concern dissolved within hours of Harris becoming the presumptive Democratic 2024 nominee, with no rival coming forward.