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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: What to Expect from our Budget Process

Jun 25, 2021 10:52AM ● By Editor

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By Braidy Powers, Cook County Auditor-Treasurer from Cook County MN - June 25, 2025

 

We began our formal budget process this year in April — two months earlier than has been our usual practice. The reasons for the early start are to give departments more time to fit budget planning into their schedules, to give county administration more time to discuss changes with departments, and more time for the county board to review and react to requests prior to the state deadline for proposed levies on Sept. 30.   

The Cook County Board of Commissioners approved of the new 2022 budget calendar on April 13.  Highlights of the calendar are: a deadline of June 30 for final budget requests, budget presentations to the county board starting July 27, approval of the proposed county budget and levy on Sept. 14, mailing of Truth In Taxation statements to taxpayers on Nov. 12, and the approval of the final county budget and levy on Dec. 14. Other entities making budget requests, including the Cook County and Schroeder historical societies and Soil and Water Conservation District, have the same deadline. The only exceptions are the unorganized fire districts which have until Aug. 20 to submit their budgets. 

In general, budgeting is expected to be a less stressful process this year with COVID-19 concerns receding. The budget effects of COVID-19 are much clearer now. At this time last year, we did not know how property tax collections would be affected or if business restrictions would trigger bankruptcies and tax forfeitures. We didn’t know how lodging taxes would be affected and the resulting tourism promotion budgets. We didn’t know how local sales would be affected and the plans for paying off those bonds early. We didn’t know how transportation sales tax would be affected and the highway department projects dependent on those funds.  

The county board acted on property tax concerns in May 2020 by instituting a two-month delay on penalties to help those struggling to make the first half payment. They also approved a six-month delay on revolving loan fund payments to help small businesses. That loan payment delay was subsequently extended into 2021. 

The key factors in avoiding economic disaster were the federal government’s programs to help businesses, individuals and municipalities. One example being the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act — a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill. We also benefitted from the public health advice to spend more time outdoors away from large group activities. Many people took that advice to heart and chose Cook County as their destination for outdoor activities.  The effects of COVID-19 on our county’s budget were relatively minimal due to the CARES Act and the tourism rebound. Property tax collection percentages ended up very close to our long-term averages.  Lodging, sales and transportation sales tax collections all took a plunge for a few months after the COVID-19 crisis was announced in March, but all bounced back strong during the summer and fall.  Long-term effects on businesses and individuals are not certain but the new 2021 federal program, known as the American Rescue Plan Act, will hopefully continue to ease us toward normal.

One concern for the budget going forward is the increase in inflation, which is reported as largely due to pent up demand from COVID-19 restrictions. We’ve already seen the effects of this inflation on construction costs in the county. Union contracts expire at the end of this year and inflation may be part of those talks. We will likely add a discretionary amount to our 2022 budget for inflationary effects and continue to monitor and adjust as we go through the summer and fall.  

We also continue to wait for the reappraisal of our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness lands. The BWCAW annual payment of almost $2 million goes directly to offset the county levy. The every-10-year-required appraisal, last done in 2019, cut that payment by a third. But the cut was temporarily delayed when the U.S. Forest Service agreed to reappraise those lands. The result of the reappraisal isn’t expected until early 2022. If the reappraisal turns out to be a cut, that cut will be retroactive to the 2020 and 2021 payments, with repayment of the difference required, and the lower payments will continue through 2029.  

A continuing budget issue is our aging infrastructure. Building repair and maintenance costs have risen in recent years and we have increased the building and capital levies to meet those needs.  One goal is to stabilize current costs by building a reserve that will handle projected large repairs. Another goal is to be able to project when those large repairs will occur.  

We will restart our budget advisory committee meetings on June 22. The committee gives us community perspective on the issues affecting the county budget. In 2020 this committee helped us work through some changes to the county budget process and fiscal policies, which the county board then approved.  

What hasn’t changed this year are presentations to the county board. The general fund presentation is planned for July 27. The Sheriff and Highway departments presentations are scheduled for the week of July 27 – Aug. 6. Public Health and Human Services will present at a special meeting of the PHHS board on Aug. 3. This earlier schedule allows an extra two weeks for town hall meetings if the board determines they are necessary. It also gives time for follow up meetings with departments and updating the budget for any adjustments that are needed prior to adopting the proposed levy in September.   

We have also tightened the dates for mailing the truth-In-taxation statements. State law allows a two-week period for mailing statements but we have set our goal now to mail on the earliest date allowed.  

And finally, as required by statute, the truth in taxation meeting must be held during the period between late November and the end of December and must be held prior to approving the final budget and levy. The county board must choose the date of that public hearing at the meeting in September when they approve the proposed levy. We expect to choose a date early in December and have planned for the final budget and levy to be approved on Dec. 14.  

One final note:  as of this date the legislature has not appropriated money to fund state operations for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2021. The legislature adjourned on May 17 without appropriating money for state functions. We continue to get notices from various state departments advising contractors, vendors and grantees that all work under state contracts must be suspended as of June 30. We hope this will be resolved soon and look forward to this not being a 2022 budget issue for the county.

 

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

 

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