Cook County budget includes staff reductions, sugary beverages tax

Nora Shelly, City Editor

The Cook County Board of Commissioners approved their 2017 budget this week, which includes a tax on sweetened beverages and cuts to county staff.

The budget, approved by a 11-4 vote Tuesday, includes staff reductions of 300 Cook County employees and a promise to reduce the number of inmates at Cook County jail. It also comes along with an ordinance passed last week that pledges not to raise any sales, property or home rule income taxes more than inflation rises for the next two years.

Apart from the staff reductions, the budget also includes further steps to reduce the county’s administrative footprint. It calls for reducing the properties owned by the county by nearly 1 million square feet, reducing the physical size of the Cook County Jail and focusing on outpatient rather than inpatient care in the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said in a statement on his website that he voted for the budget because it meets the needs residents have for “efficient services.”

It is Suffredin’s 14th budget during his time in office. He voted in favor of the first 11 budgets and against the last two because they didn’t provide that sort of efficiency, he said.

“Over the last two years I have complained about the lack of planning and coordination between the budgets and the real needs of the County,” he said in the statement. “This budget does that planning and coordination.”

The County has taken steps to shrink administrative spending in the past. The county’s workforce is 10 percent smaller than it was in 2010, according to a budget document.

In a budget document, Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle said the sweetened beverage tax was essential to funding county services, as they would be “confronted with a decline of $62.2 million in revenues” without the sweetened beverages tax.

Money from the tax will be going toward funding the 1,000 public safety positions that were at risk under a funding shortfall, according to the document.

Suffredin told The Daily the budget effectively dealt with potential financial problems that could come up in 2017.

“I’m expecting a relatively smooth year,” he said. “We have a balanced budget which meets all of our needs. … It’s a well-crafted budget.”

Suffredin said in his statement he supports the budget because of its efforts to streamline spending on administrative costs, provide adequate resources for the Circuit Court of Cook County and continue to fund the county’s pension funds.

The budget includes over $170 million in cuts. A $174.3 million budget shortfall was predicted in June, a news release from Preckwinkle said. She said in the release the cuts were necessary.

“Almost exactly a year ago I cautioned that FY 2017 would be a challenge and I believe we have responded with a responsible and responsive budget,” Preckwinkle said in the news release.

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