County board sets final budget and lowers levy for 2024
image via Cook County youtube account

County board sets final budget and lowers levy for 2024

The Dec. 12 meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners included a wide range of agenda items, with the commissioners discussing survey corners, budget decisions, and the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

Wayne Henchy presented to the board with a request for support for a grant he is seeking on behalf of Cook County Land Services. The grant would fund the restoration of survey corners in the “East end” area of the county. Henchy explained that many of the corners have been lost or displaced, making setting accurate property lines difficult. This could cause issues for property owners looking to build on their parcel. In an interview with WTIP, Cook County Administrator James Joerke said of the effort, “Wayne’s been doing this work for the county since 1995, and nobody is more expert in this work than he is.” The board voted to support Henchy’s grant application and corner restoration effort.

As the meeting shifted to budget items, Cook County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers began with good news for the county. An unexpected interest income from  investments resulted in about $500,000 in additional money for the county to allocate in the 2024 budget. The board discussed several possible options for how to spend the funds. After some discussion, they voted to use $170,000 to lower the 2024 levy, which has now ​been set at 5.16%. The remainder of the interest income will go to the budget for the CIP.

Joerke explained that the board chose to use the extra funds on one-time budget items because this level of unexpected interest income cannot be anticipated every year. He said, “It may well be that these higher rates persist through 2024, and that we might have another great year for interest income, but anything can happen.” 

As the commissioners discussed a final version of the 2024 budget, they also made a decision on the subject of commissioner pay for 2024. While Commissioners Deb White and Stacey Hawkins stated that they did not support the pay increase of $3600, the motion to raise the ​commissioner salary ultimately passed 3-2. 

According to Joerke, the arguments in favor of the change largely hinged on the motion’s supporters wanting the salary to be competitive, and to ensure that potential future commissioners would not be dissuaded from running for office based on the current pay rate. On the topic of commissioner pay, Joerke stated, “The argument is that raising the pay makes it easier for a wider variety of people to consider running for office.”

During the discussion, Commissioner Ann Sullivan added that the rate set for 2024 will bring the board’s pay up to 95% of the average salary for commissioners from similar counties across the state.

The board did not vote on changing the rate of per diems, which is compensation for additional duties, including attending extra meetings or traveling for county business. The question of whether to adjust the per diem rate was raised during previous meetings. Beyond a brief mention of the variability of those rates in the state by Commissioner Sullivan, per diems were not part of the salary discussion on Dec. 12. Joerke said that he expects the conversation to arise again in the future, even if it was left out of the changes for 2024. He said, “It’s a topic that I imagine will come back in future years.”

Joerke also gave an update on the state of the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) related to the CIP. The county received two proposals for architectural services for the proposed Justice Center, which will be reviewed by the Budget and Facilities Advisory Committee. The RFP for project management services is still open at this time.

According to Joerke, hiring an architectural firm will help strengthen the county’s application for state bonding for the CIP. He made it clear, however, that if the bonding application is not accepted, the board will reevaluate the Justice Center element of the CIP.

On the subject of deferred maintenance, ​t​hough, Joerke said, “We are going to move forward on the deferred maintenance piece of it- there is unanimous agreement that we have to do that work.”

The Board of Commissioners will meet one more time before the end of the year. Due to the Christmas holiday, the regular meeting schedule will be amended, and the next meeting will be on Dec. 19. Meetings are open to the public and video of the Board of Commissioners meetings, and many other county boards, is available on the county website and YouTube pages.

WTIP’s Kirsten Wisniewski spoke with Cook County Administrator James Joerke about the Dec. 12 meeting. Full audio below.