Democratic candidate for Cook County Board (6th District district)
Responses to our questions
In preparing future budgets, Cook County may face rising costs and static revenues. How should county government evolve? What specific finance strategy will you encourage for producing balanced budgets? Please be decisive.
I believe we should be forward thinking by examining the main drivers in our budget, population shift and social trends.
The way we deliver healthcare, incarcerated individuals, provided needed services and use of technology have all changed over the past few years and ever evolving. Taking this into account, means that and delivery of services and how they are paid for must also evolve.
A balanced approach to budgeting that would consist of cost containment, revenue enhancements, cuts and consolidations where possible I feel is best. Therefore, all of these aspects are on the table for consideration and the impact to my district. An example was the implementation of the sweeten beverage tax and ultimately repeal.
Since my district borders Will County and Indiana, we have already seen the detrimental effects of people leaving Cook County for their good and services due to an increase in a tax that adversely affects an area that is already the most unfairly taxed area for property taxes according to recent reports. Many services that the County provides are uncompensated. The economically disadvantaged typically cannot pay for healthcare or legal service that ultimately places more stress on the overall County's finances. Early indication that there will be a reduction of population that will occur within Cook County by the next census count. Financial projections with shift in populations need to be taken into account.
The County must continue to find methodologies to streamline and consolidate by using the technology advances that are available to help reduce expenditures. In order not to "reinvent the wheel," we should collaborate with other large counties across the nation to determine the possibilities of their best practices that may be able to be implemented here. Lastly, identifying a specific funding stream for any new projects/programs will be critical so it can "pay for itself" as opposed being to unfunded.
If faced in budget debates with cutting the county's payroll or raising taxes, which one will you choose, and why? Please be decisive.
As I mentioned, I believe in a balance approach to budgeting and blanketing raising taxes would further burden my district. The majority of the County budget goes towards healthcare cost, public safety and personnel. The operating revenue has increased year over year by 11.6% with the largest portion being in healthcare expenses. County Care was implemented as local response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to help cost shift care in primary settings where the cost is lower than in an emergency department with the goal to reduce the cost of healthcare. When citizens use hospital emergency services as their source of "primary care", the cost of care is nearly triple than in a primary setting. Regardless of the potential changes on a federal level, I believe technology and the use of smart phones can help reduce the cost to the system by steering residents to the county's satellite clinics. Bringing companies and fostering economic growth in my district is the best revenue source that will help the entire county. I do believe that if we grow the economy, jobs and infrastructure — where it has been lacking in my district — would help the entire county budget. The promotion of manufacturing jobs, particularly advanced manufacturing, can restore wealth to the middle class, create jobs, and reduce the national debt in a responsible and sustainable manner. Expansion of clinical services under a managed care system (substance abuse/adult dental/mental health for example) will help keep healthcare cost down if they are preformed in primary care settings. Lastly, the county's healthcare system needs to ensure that it is recouping all matching state and federal programs. This includes capturing funds from all current billable procedures. This is significant since the changing landscape into a managed care system. Working with the Health and hospital System, tis would put less stress on the amount of subsidies that the County provides. Another area to balance the budget that indirectly addresses rightsizing is the elimination and closure of vacant positions and a hiring freeze on other positions. Eliminating these positions, as was recently implemented to help balance the budget, helped saved money and a proposal I would support. Lastly, Cook County's judicial system is one of the main contributors to the overall budget. I support efforts that would reduce the cost, by reducing incarceration, on case-by-case bases, on low-level non-violent offences. This reform could potentially provide cost savings. The County could also save money if the Sherriff's police took over the forest preserves.
Do you favor or oppose privatization of county services and downsizing of the county's workforce?
Public health, safety and courts are required functions of County government. As technology integrates further into our lives, rightsizing positions should be examined to provide greater efficiencies in government. I would consider contracting services only if it meets safeguards that are in the best interest of the county. These would include services that are not assigned to essential functions of government, provide greater efficiency or provide cost savings to the county. All options need to be explored. I do not believe that contracting of services should be a blanket substitution for strictly balancing the budget or awarding contracts based on political connections. Privatization of any service should be based on qualifications. Clear standards, cost analysis and benchmark of performance should be spelled out prior to any contact awarded. Under these circumstances, I would demand full transparency of these contracts to ensure that they are fairly and ethically rewarded.
The relative stability of the county health system has reduced the costs to taxpayers. How can the county now stabilize the finances of the public safety and court systems?
I believe that demonstrating the cost savings, as well as quality of care, has shown to be the best way advocate for the continuation of funding for the County Health and Hospital system and any other program.
A significant cost on the court and jail systems are directly related to healthcare since recent reports indicate that up to 30% of the jail population suffers from mental illness and that lack of services in the healthcare system force them into a system that they do not belong in. I would like to see a similar model implemented to stabilize the finances of public safety and court systems. Cook County's judicial system is one of the main contributors to the overall budget.
I support efforts that would reduce the costs for the jail by reducing the number of inmates and implement more electronic monitoring, reduce incarceration rates on case-by-case bases for low-level non-violent offenses. In conjunction, court cost and fees need to be examined. Since many of these low level, non violent detainees cannot afford cash bond, there is a higher cost keeping them incarcerated than them providing a non-cash bond. Utilization of this alternative of non cash bonds has reduced the pretrial jail population and should continue.
What is the role of the County Board in accelerating criminal defendants' time to trial and otherwise speeding up the flow of court cases? What if any changes do you propose for defendants' pre-trial release and electronic monitoring?
The decision to determine which individuals remain incarcerated lies within the judicial system. However, decreasing overcrowding and the length of time waiting for trial for non violent offenders is a goal that should receive consensuses. To this end, the Board can help direct funding and help to reach this goal. On low level offenders, potentially remaining with their family and keeping employment, is a far better option to the court than waiting pretrial incarcerated. The use electronic monitoring and with non cash bonds of non violent offenders will reduce the jail population. As part of their condition to be released, provide services that may help them stabilize their life and not to violate the provisions of their release. Transportation, mental health, substance abuse or job training counseling would help these individuals in many circumstances. Studies have indicated the cost of providing these services is less than incarceration.
Do you favor or oppose contracting with municipalities or other public bodies to take over services now provided by the county's highway department, the forest preserve police, and other county-run offices? Please be specific.
The goal of transferring any service through an intergovernmental agreement would be to improve service and provide cost efficiencies to the residents. A clear delineation of services needs to be defined to create a success partnership.
Transferring the highway department and forest department police by the County would be advantageous to the overall county budget, but needs to be on a case by case bases. Some County highways transcend throughout different municipalities in my district. Jurisdiction of the maintenance of these roads should be examined since it could be the city, township or the county's responsibility. Clearly an inefficient use of recourses particularly when these roads disjointed. Contracting would be beneficial of these roads to help streamline costs.
However, in some cases may be impractical since some municipalities use the Sheriff police as their police force. These type of agreements do help the citizens and the county has filled a void. I would be open to exploring intergovernmental agreement with the Forest Preserves police — particularly those adjacent to unincorporated areas.
Do you believe unincorporated areas of Cook County are paying their share for services provided by the county? What if any changes do you propose?
Currently, the County provides services in unincorporated areas add to the budget and confusing for where to locate services for residents. I would support examining transferring the unincorporated areas of Cook County to local municipalities. There are several of these area located within the 6th district and could potentially provide additional cost savings to the County. I would like to determine what the true cost of providing services to unincorporated areas, because they are essentially receiving services at no costs. Residents would need to be brought into this conversation since they may not understand the potential savings and past analysis has shown they are not in favor of these mergers. Roads that fall under the highway department can be looked at to determine cost efficiencies of transferring jurisdiction to local municipalities. This could also potentially provide additional cost savings.
What specific changes, if any, do you advocate for Cook County's property assessment system? Do you favor or oppose creation of an office of tax administration to combine functions now performed by several offices?
County taxes that help provide valuable services should also be a fair taxation and distribution of revenue system. Increased businesses and working families will come to my area if they feel there is a "level playing field" through a fairer tax system.
There have been recent reports that property tax assessment has not been fair indicated by my region has the highest tax rate yet low assessed property evaluation. The determination is a closed-door "insider" process that needs transparency and public input. Due to shifting population and the changing business climate over the past 20 years, the same taxation system needs to be overhauled to today's environment.
Similar to the consolidation of the Clerk and the Recorded of Deeds, other areas of the county can be examined on how modern technology can provide cost savings to the County. A strategic analysis of other departments and agencies should be examined for other potential mergers. County programs should be examined to identify mandated operational costs and that relates to service needs and necessary personnel to implement the programs.
I believe creating a centralized comprehensive tax administration agency would meet these goals. It also would provide residents more of a "one stop shop" regarding the property assessment, value and taxation of the county and breakdown the current department silos.
For incumbents: During your current term, on what proposed ordinances have you been the primary sponsor? For challengers: What proposed ordinances would you introduce?
Due to the great disparities in property taxes in the South Suburbs I would propose ordinances that would require mandatory disclosures of the assessment formulas used to evaluate residential and commercial property. I would also propose a review of pharmaceutical drug utilization costs for high number of disease state management. Most prominent diseases such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, HIV, etc. Based on my experience I would like to determine where innovative drug therapies are utilized and are the most effective and efficient drugs being used on the formulary within the county hospital system that reduce hospitalization costs, keep people healthier longer and increase their quality of life for chronic diseases. Once reviewed there should be a cost analysis prediction model used to predict savings using pharmacoeconomic studies.