County set to release initial phase of plan that could spend millions on buildings
WTIP file photo

County set to release initial phase of plan that could spend millions on buildings

Cook County officials could spend nearly $30 million over the next several years updating buildings and other property it owns.

The public will get a look at some of the fine print for the first time when the county releases draft documents for its Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Monday, May 15.

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 earlier this year and in late 2022. 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 in February 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.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners are expected to vote in late June for how much to spend on the CIP, if the plan moves forward. Learn more about the spending proposal here.

To learn more about the CIP, click here. 

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs recently spoke with Joerke about the CIP and current schedule for the plan. Also discussed in the interview is the failed merger of the local Economic Development Authority and the Housing Redevelopment Authority. The commissioners voted 3-2 during a board meeting May 9 not to support the proposed merger. Listen to the full interview in the audio below.