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Cook County Connections: 2021 Cook County Budget Process

Jun 05, 2020 02:38PM ● By Editor
By Cook County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers.  From Cook County MN - June 5, 2020

The corona virus pandemic has disrupted how we all live and work, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t have a similar effect on the county’s 2021 budget process.

 The budget is a fluid situation, changing by the week.  The Budget Advisory Committee and the county board will set goals and develop a plan with the best information available, with the expectation that those plans may change throughout the summer and fall.

Forecasting revenues and expenditures will be difficult. Accuracy will depend how well we understand the spread of the virus and adapt to the guidelines and orders issued by federal, state and local government officials; the public’s use of and need for our services; the impacts on businesses we deal with; and the impacts on our taxpayers. 

What follows is a summary of the basic budget schedule and process we have used in the past. We expect to rewrite this as we go forward this year.


Minnesota counties are required by law to formally approve budgets and levies.  Cook County’s annual budget process is typical for Minnesota counties.  It involves three steps: budget preparation, budget adoption and budget execution.  The budget calendar has varied from time to time, usually because of state actions, but generally follows the timeline below:

Budget Preparation and Adoption

June The board discusses the upcoming budget goals and constraints and approves a letter to department heads.  The letter describes the budget process, the balance between public services and the tax burden, and any outside constraints on the budget such as state-imposed levy limits or significant changes in revenue sources or expenses.   Any directives on budget goals or expenditure limits are included here.  The budget letter, budget request forms, budget calendar and financial reports are distributed to department heads. 

July The Auditor’s Office distributes the current six-month departmental financial reports.  The Administrator and Auditor discuss goals and directives with departments.  Department heads prepare and submit their budgets, and the Auditor’s Office compiles the budgets.

August The board reviews the preliminary results and conducts public meetings with the largest departments: the Highway Department, Sheriff’s Department, and Public Health and Human Services. The board may schedule public meetings with other departments if they see significant changes or impacts related to their budget requests.

August/September The board may hold town hall meetings to discuss the preliminary budget.  A preliminary levy is adopted no later than September 30, and the date of the Truth-In-Taxation meeting is scheduled.

October Budget discussions continue, and department proposals are adjusted as new information becomes available.

November Truth-In-Taxation statements are mailed out.  The statements include preliminary levies from all property taxing entities in Cook County, including the State General Tax.

November/December The board conducts the Truth-In-Taxation hearing.  Budget discussions continue.  The board approves the final budget and levy no later than December 30. The final levy cannot be higher than the preliminary levy.

Budget Execution

January – December Quarterly budget reports are prepared and presented to the board for review. The annual audit of county finances, including budget results, is conducted with results reported to the board.

Budget Committee The County Budget Committee includes two county commissioners, the County Administrator, the County Auditor and up to five citizens, one from each commissioner district, appointed by the board.  The role of the budget committee is advisory to the county commissioners.  The committee can bring its unique community perspective to the process by looking at the current assumptions the county uses in budgeting, understanding the constraints the county operates within and the risks that the county faces.  This may lead to recommendations regarding the budget process, long-range financial planning and overall budget priorities.   This committee meets monthly beginning in late spring, continuing to December, and is led by the County Administrator.

Budget Policies

Budget Policy The county prepares and executes the budget according to the Budget Policy.  The policy includes budget amendments, budget transfers, budget additions and budget monitoring. 

Fiscal Policy The county follows the goals outlined in the County Fiscal Policy, including fiscal responsibility, public service, ethics and integrity, mission and values.

Additional budget information is available on the county website,

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service