The Cook County Modernization Report
100-Day Accountability Report
This 100-Day Accountability Report gives a progress update on recommendations to reform Cook County that the Civic Federation made in its Cook County Modernization Report. The 100-Day Report provides an overview of key events in the transition to the new administration of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, summarizes key findings from the Modernization Report, provides an update on the County’s budget since publication of the original report and includes detailed information on the status of all 36 recommendations.
The administration of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who took office on December 6, 2010, has made considerable progress in implementing Modernization Report recommendations in the first 100 days. To the right is a chart summarizing the ratings the Civic Federation used to identify the status of the recommendations 100 days into the new administration.
While the Civic Federation is encouraged by the reforms that have already been implemented, much remains to be done to improve the County’s operations. The Civic Federation is concerned about actions taken during the FY2011 budget process that infringe on the budgetary independence of the Health System and about the administration’s opposition to a separate governing structure for the Forest Preserve District.
Cook County Board President Preckwinkle has also released her own 100-day progress report. Click here to read that report.
A Roadmap for Cook County Government
The purpose of the Cook County Modernization Report is to provide leaders of the County with ideas for reshaping and refining County government that will improve service delivery to residents while reducing wasteful spending and decreasing reliance on taxpayer funds.
A Roadmap for Cook County
What Does Cook County Do?
With an estimated 5,287,037 residents, Cook County is the most populous county in the State of Illinois and the second most populous county in the United States, coming only after Los Angeles County in California. The County is 946 square miles in size – of that only 15% is unincorporated by the City of Chicago or other municipalities. The role of Cook County government is to provide healthcare, court and public safety services, as well as administer vital records and assess and collect property taxes. In 2009 Cook County had 24,404 full-time employees on its payroll.
Cook County suffers from several major problems that must be addressed. They are:
Expenditures That Exceed Revenues
The most immediate problem the incoming administration must resolve is a significant deficit in its General Funds budget for FY2011, which according to some reports will stand at approximately $300 million. One of the candidates for Board President has said the County could face a deficit ranging from $250 million to $500 million.
Outmoded Governance Structure and Inefficient Operations
Cook County is a fractured unit of government, with control divided among multiple elected officials and offices. The decentralized governance structure obscures responsibility for decisions, making it difficult for the electorate to hold the appropriate official accountable.
The Cook County Modernization Project
The Civic Federation embarked on the Cook County Modernization Project because it believes these problems must be addressed immediately beginning in December of 2010, when a new President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners takes office. The Modernization Project provides a roadmap for creating a government that is more efficient, less costly and more accountable. It contains recommendations that can be implemented in the first 100 days of the new administration, as well as others that will require a more sustained effort.
The recommendations included in this roadmap are a mixture of new ideas and previously proposed solutions that have not been implemented by previous County administrations. It is our hope that these recommendations will be implemented by the new administration, and that policymakers and citizens alike will track progress and demand transparency and accountability. The cooperation of elected officials is key to most, if not all, of the major recommendations contained in this document.
While the report focuses on all Cook County functions, particular emphasis is paid to improving operational efficiency across Offices under the President, reforming the governance structure and proposing reforms for the Health System.
Recommendations for the First 100 Days of the New Administration
The Modernization Plan includes a large number of recommendations for the first 100 days of the new administration; the full list can be found on page 120 of the report. Some of these recommendations propose that the new Cook County Board President:
- Roll back the remaining 0.5% of the 2008 sales tax increase;
- Close its projected $300 million budget deficit through cuts or spending reductions;
- Require the Health System to reduce its reliance on taxpayer funds but give the System more independence to manage its own finances;
- Appoint a Public Safety Task Force to perform a close examination of public safety expenditures and policies;
- With other newly-elected Cook County officials, delay the hiring of new senior staff of their own choosing until after January 1, 2011 in order to reduce long-term pension liabilities; and
- Work on an effort to centralize and consolidate administrative structures in the County. Currently, County elected officials all maintain their own finance, human resource, legal, and IT staff resulting in overlap of functions, duplication of efforts, and inefficiency in operation.
At the conclusion of the 100 day period, the Civic Federation will survey changes made to assess if reform is underway.
Short-, Mid- and Long-Term Recommendations
The Civic Federation has also prepared a list of short-, mid- and long-term recommendations for the County. That list, which starts on page 136 of the Modernization Plan, includes the following:
- Cook County government should end the subsidy to unincorporated residents by transferring its services to neighboring municipalities or creating Special Service Areas.
- Cook County should reform its information technology (IT) practices by implementing a complete resource planning system for Countywide use as well as using IT best practices to streamline County operations.
- The County should reform its antiquated procurement system by implementing transparency and operational reforms, as well as conducting comprehensive spending analysis to look for cost-saving opportunities.
- The County should create a unified property tax administration office that merges the Treasurer’s office; the County Clerk’s tax extension, tax redemption, and map divisions; the part of the Recorder’s office dealing with property records; and the Auditor’s property functions. Such a merger could result in as much as $1.5 million in savings a year and help simplify property tax collection in the County.
- The County should also consider consolidation of the County Clerk and Recorder of Deeds offices, following the model set by numerous counties across Illinois and across the nation. This effort could save up to $800,000 a year.
- The new Cook County Board President should exercise the budgetary powers authorized to the position as a way to control spending across the County.
- The County should allow the judiciary to appoint the Clerk of the Circuit Court, a move that would require changes to legislation.
- Cook County should focus on implementing serious pension reforms to properly fund its pension liabilities and stave off fund insolvency.
The Civic Federation has also prepared several tutorials to help explain the Cook County Modernization Project:
For more information on Cook County issues, please visit the following link: