September 28, 2011
Cook County’s fiscal year begins on December 1 and ends on November 30. The Civic Federation believes that all governments should adopt a budget at least one month in advance of the start of the fiscal year. For the County, that would be a November 1 budget adoption. In addition, the public should be provided with ample time to review the budget in advance of the public hearing.
In the past, Cook County had fallen into a pattern of delaying the adoption of its annual budget. With the exception of the FY2010 budget, recent Cook County budgets have been passed more than two months into the new fiscal year. State law requires that the County adopt its annual appropriation ordinance by the end of its first fiscal quarter (i.e., the last day of February). In FY2008, the County Board of Commissioners took advantage of the leap year and passed the budget on February 29, 2008.
The FY2011 budget was not released until February 1, 2011 - two full months after the start of the fiscal year. The Civic Federation is aware that there was a change in leadership that complicated the process this year. However, other governments are able to manage timely release of budgets in election years and the County has a long history of delayed budgets.
In government, a budget serves as both the legal authority to raise revenues and expend funds and as a financial plan. The lack of a plan in place before the start of the fiscal year will make it more challenging to implement. Furthermore, delays in developing the FY2011 budget meant that reductions were necessary to balance the full year’s budget had to be made over three quarters instead of four, requiring more severe budget reductions.
In an effort to end the cycle of delayed budget passages, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued Executive Order 2011-1 on June 29, 2011, instructing that the executive budget recommendation be presented to the County Board by October 31 of each year and include a three-year financial forecast. The Executive Order also included requirements to release a preliminary budget by July 31 and conduct a public hearing on the preliminary budget by September 1. The County successfully met both of these goals for this year. The Preliminary FY2012 budget was released on July 28, 2011, and the public budget hearing was held on August 25, 2011.
As part of Cook County’s budget process, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System Board must submit its own preliminary budget to the County Board prior to the submission and approval of the County’s overall proposed budget. The Health System Board voted on and approved its FY2012 Preliminary Budget at its September 28, 2011 Board meeting. The Finance Committee of the Cook County Board will hold a public hearing on October 3, 2011 regarding the Health System’s preliminary budget. At the public hearing, the Finance Committee is expected to vote on the Health System’s preliminary budget. According to the ordinance establishing the independent board, the Cook County Board of Commissioners has 45 days to approve or reject the Health System’s proposed budget from its submission date. Upon approval of the Health System’s preliminary budget, it will be incorporated into the County’s proposed budget. In the case that the County Board utilizes the maximum allowable 45 days, President Preckwinkle would not be able to release the FY2012 Cook County Executive Budget Recommendations until mid-November, thereby violating the October 31deadline set forth in her Executive Order.
The Civic Federation will continue to monitor the Cook County budget process with an eye on whether the County Board and new administration will continue to meet President Preckwinkle’s timeline or revert to past patterns of delay.