Lowry with nurses

County Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd, second from right) with Provident Hospital nurses, May 2020

Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd) voted for a $6.94 budget that closes a $222.2 million gap without raising taxes, though two Cook County Health clinics in Woodlawn and Bronzeville will close on Dec 7 as part of cost-cutting measures.

All services will be retained at the John Sengstacke Health Center by Provident Hospital in Washington Park, 500 E. 51st St., though the move has drawn harsh criticism from the nurses' union.

In a statement, Lowry thanked President Toni Preckwinkle, Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizkio and their teams for ensuring that Cook County residents would not see any new taxes.

“We are all aware how tough this year was and continues to be during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “This year's budget process was unlike any previous process. There was and continues to be stress on all levels of government — we have a heightened need for health care resources to support our 3rd District, as well as communities outside of the district — but are unable to rely on our regular revenue sources to provide an increased level of support.

“Like everyone, we had to look meticulously at our overall budget, and we made sure Cook County residents would see no new taxes,” Lowry continued. “I always operate with transparency, collaboration, and action. It is with these core tenets I promise to continue to serve you as your commissioner.”

Lowry will host a virtual town hall on the budget on Monday, Nov. 30, at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the budget further with constituents and community leaders. Attendees can RSVP on his Facebook page and learn more on his website, commissionerlowry.com.

Preckwinkle, the former 4th Ward alderman, praised the budget in a statement, saying it would advance her work on criminal justice reform, public health, infrastructure and economic development.

“This is a balanced budget, without tax increases, that makes millions of dollars in important equity investments made possible because of our hard work, tough decisions and avoiding quick fixes,” she said. “We’ve done a great deal of heavy lifting to instill fiscal responsibility and financial stability in Cook County.”

Commissioners unanimously voted to close the gap through $77 million from the county's rainy day fund, expenditure holdbacks, $50 million in federal stimulus through the CARES Act, higher-than-expected revenue through sources like cannabis, gaming and online sales and not hiring 569 new public employees to fill vacant positions. Payments since 2016 into the unfunded pension liability have left the county's credit ratings at A2 by Moody's and A+ by Fitch.

Cook County Health closed a $187 million gap through expenditure reductions, including the closure of the two clinics, and a $40 million county tax allocation, among other measures. Reports as of last month indicated that some layoffs were still possible for the public health care network.

The budget includes millions in business support, programs related to justice reform and capital investments. The Metra pilot to cut the cost of commuter rail tickets on the Electric Line, including on stops in Hyde Park, is still targeted to begin in January.

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