Commissioners seek public input as county shapes plan to spend millions on buildings
Photo courtesy of Cook County

Commissioners seek public input as county shapes plan to spend millions on buildings

Cook County officials could spend nearly $30 million over the next several years updating buildings and other property it owns. Before they decide how much to spend, county officials want to hear from the public on any decisions regarding the proposal.

Over the next five years, the county anticipates spending between $13.4 million and $30 million to upgrade building systems that are nearing or have exceeded their expected lifetimes, according to Commissioner Stacey Hawkins. If approved, the county would essentially take out loans, most often referred to as bonds in county documents, to pay for the facility upgrades and changes, she said. These loans, Hawkins said during a recent interview with WTIP, would be paid back using local taxpayer dollars.

The money spent on the project would include things like water heaters and plumbing fixtures, along with updated floors, walls, and ceilings. Other plans could include repairing or replacing windows and doors, and exterior finishes on county-owned buildings. The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) will also include plans for addressing a shortage of workspaces for deputies, garage bay space, and space for evidence processing and storage in the law enforcement center. There will also be a plan to address a shortage of office space in the courthouse.

County Administrator James Joerke says that the main goals in updating the CIP are to increase the reliability of building systems and to reduce long-term operating costs.

“The county has deferred building maintenance to the point that our maintenance staff are always working reactively and struggling to keep up with equipment failures. Too often we run equipment to the point of failure and pay a premium to replace it on short notice,” Joerke said. “By catching up on deferred maintenance and adopting regular equipment replacement schedules, we can operate and maintain our buildings in a more predictable and cost-effective way that will benefit County taxpayers.”

Given the extent of needed upgrades and repairs, the county expects to issue bonds to pay for the work, Joerke said during a series of open house-style meetings in February. While interest rates have increased in recent months, the county enjoys a strong bond rating and would qualify for lower rates than a local government with more debt and a weaker cash position, according to Joerke. The county has also been putting levy dollars into a capital improvement fund, he added, the balance of which was around $592,000 at the end of 2022. The amount that the county ultimately will need to finance will depend on the final scope of the CIP and will be determined once the organization updates its financial management plan this spring.

Attendance was low at the open house events held at the courthouse last month and another similar event in November 2022. However, Hawkins urged local taxpayers to get educated on what the county is considering spending money on specific to the capital plan. There is currently no timeline for when the commissioners will vote for how much to spend on the CIP if it moves forward. Learn more about the spending proposal here.

To take a brief survey and share input with county officials about the plan to spend many millions of dollars, click here.

To learn more about the CIP, click here. 

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs recently spoke with Hawkins and Commissioner Deb White about the county’s plans to spend money updating buildings and other property it owns in Cook County. Audio below.