Cook County budget for 2021 holds line on taxes, promises improved transit for South Side, south suburbs

CHICAGO — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year has good news for county taxpayers in general, and for residents of the south suburbs and Chicago’s South Side in particular.

Preckwinkle’s $6.9 billion budget plan unveiled on Thursday includes no new taxes.

It does feature support for improved Pace bus service, and lower fares for the Metra Electric and Rock Island commuter rail lines under Fair Transit South Cook, a three-year pilot program.

According to a news release, the county is working with Metra and Pace with the goal of launching the pilot project with lower rail fares early next year. 

“The goal is to increase service and decrease costs for some of our community’s most underserved residents who experience longer commute times than North Side residents and who may spend up to half of their income on transportation expenses,” Preckwinkle said in the release. “Now is the time, given the economic challenges from COVID-19, to showcase our commitment to equity by addressing the critical need in the communities most severely impacted by the pandemic.”

Among the lines where rail fares would be reduced by 50% is Metra Electric’s South Chicago branch, which terminates near 93rd Street and Baltimore Avenue in the South Chicago neighborhood.

Fair Transit South Cook also envisions expanded service on Pace’s 352 bus route that runs along Halsted Street from the Chicago Heights terminal to the CTA Red Line’s 95th Street station. The county has secured a $330,000 Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) grant from the Federal Transit Administration to help get the word out about the transit upgrades.

Preckwinkle said a gap of $222.2 million in the county’s general fund was bridged in several ways. Among them: tapping rainy day funds, eliminating 659 vacant full-time positions and taking advantage of higher than expected revenue from cannabis, gaming and online sales taxes.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said in a release his office will lose about 300 positions in the 2021 budget. That will be achieved through attrition — which accounts for about 35 positions a month — and hiring limits.

“The elimination of the positions (is) significant, but we understand these cuts are necessary and that all county agencies are facing similar hardships,” Dart said in the release.

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October 19, 2020 at 06:38AM

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