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Cook County board approves levy of 3 percent

hile noting the financial benefits of federal grants, public health funding and unforeseen reductions in health care premiums, the Cook County Board of Commissioners set their 2022 budget and levy during a meeting today (Dec. 21) at the courthouse in Grand Marais.

The levy was set at a 3 percent increase over last year. The total levy for 2021 was $10,676,801. The 2022 budget will be for just over $10,997,400.

A preliminary levy was set in September at 4.5 percent.

Auditor Braidy Powers said a number of federal grants and other funding sources would allow the commissioners to set a levy of 2.2 percent if they opted to do so. A federal grant to the public health and human services department at just over $134,000 helped lower the levy, as did lower than expected costs for health care coverage for county staff, according to the commissioners.

Board Chair Dave Mills said many of the funding sources that allowed for the levy to come down from 4.5 percent are not ongoing revenue pools to support Cook County. With that in mind, Mills said it’s important to keep long-term budget planning in consideration when setting the 2022 levy.

Commissioner Stacey Hawkins said she preferred a levy of 2.5 percent, while Commissioner Ann Sullivan suggested a 3.2 percent levy. Ultimately, the board agreed to a 3 percent levy following a motion from Commissioner Bob Svaleson. The motion passed on a unanimous 5-0 vote.

In more financial discussion from this week’s county board meeting, the commissioners reviewed their pay structure for next year. This was an issue that was addressed at length during their Dec. 14 meeting as well.

This week the board agreed to increase their salaries at rate likely to be in the range of 2.5 percent while keeping other compensation, per diems and other reimbursements the same next year from what they were in 2021, according to County Administrator James Joerke.

Given the changes, the 2022 salaries for the Cook County commissioners will range from $24,500 for whomever is selected as the board chair to approximately more than $22,800 for the other commissioners. The vice chair in 2020 will receive an extra $500 for their role as the second in command. The schedule of per diems for the commissioners in 2020 is $100 for all approved meetings and activities. The chair and vice chair for 2022 will be selected during the first county board meeting in January.

Members of the county board have not increased their pay since 2003. The commissioners are agreed to increase their pay at a standard cost of living adjustment (COLA), currently set at just over 2.5 percent for county staff for next year. For a salary of $22,400, a 2.5 percent COLA adjustment would result in an increase of $560.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Cook County Administrator James Joerke about Tuesday’s meeting, the 2022 levy and other county news.