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Cook County Board Wrap: New Youth Jobs Pilot, Tax Incentive Requirements

Thursday, February 23, 2017
Daily
by A.D. Quig

After 15 months of wrangling, the Cook County Board finally approved changes to the county’s tax break system– “a step in the right direction,” according to sponsor Comm. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Commissioners also punted on consideration of a $36 million contract for Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s 40-year-old mainframe, and okayed the launch of a new internship pilot program for at-risk youth in the county’s South and West suburbs the same day it was introduced.

APPROVED:

Changes to property tax incentive system: After 15 months of negotiations (including a mediation session brokered by Comm. Larry Suffredin between the Bureau of Economic Development and the Assessor’s Office), changes to the county’s property tax incentive system passed Wednesday. President Toni Preckwinkle said the changes are “designed to improve the business climate, stimulate job growth in Cook County and ensure that those who receive the incentives comply with their commitments.”

Statement from City of Chicago DPD supporting tax incentive changes

Press Release from President Preckwinkle’s Office

Per the administration, the changes mean:

  • faster processing for tax break applications in Industrial Growth Zones;
  • increased transparency and accountability for applicants, who must submit economic disclosure statements and could lose incentives if they don’t comply with development agreements;
  • wage requirements for industrial properties with more than 20 employees on-site.

“We’ve had a climate that looks at tax incentives as a market tool to strictly benefit businesses, when the reality is that they are more than that – they are government sanctioned tools to spark investment, to create and retain jobs, and to provide livable wages in order to ensure prosperous commercial and industrial areas that serve as elements of flourishing communities,” Chairman Garcia said.

No one from Assessor Joe Berrios’ office was on hand. The office, which manages the incentive system, had voiced concerns about who would manage compliance, but appeared to stick to its promise in February, when it said it “wouldn’t stand in the way” of changes.

But some issues lingered for a few municipal managers, who worried that revocation language in the ordinance might scare off developers.

Some Republican commissioners echoed those concerns about overhauling and overcomplicating a system they said was necessary to attract businesses to the county. The Chief of the Bureau of Economic Development, Michael Jasso, emphasized a lot of power–including to revoke tax breaks and designate authorized officers to speed applications–will ultimately rest with village mayors and managers, and assured he was open to further amendments.

Only one commissioner, Tim Schneider (R-15), ultimately voted no.

$1 million jobs program: A seven-week paid internship program for county youth in high poverty areas passed the board the same day it was introduced. The pilot, funded with $500,000 from the Department of Transportation and Highways and “the remainder from other offices or funds under the President” will flow to the Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership, which will create internships for at least 200 youth between 16 and 24.

“This new program will provide young adults with paid internships that include industry-informed training or work experience in high-growth/high-demand sectors of our economy, including manufacturing; transportation, distribution and logistics; and information technology,” President Preckwinkle said.

Targets for the program include youth from the South and West suburbs, who are unemployed or out of school. The Partnership’s CEO Karin Norington-Reaves said the partnership is seeking private donors to broaden the pilot.

Tech contracts: Commissioners approved three large technology contracts. The biggest of the day was a $24.5 million deal with Downers Grove-based Sentinel Technologies for “a unified communications Voice Over IP (VoIP) solution” to replace the county’s aging telephone infrastructure. Technology Chairman John Fritchey praised the contract as “extensively bid and awarded” and “a very necessary contract for us to have.” The first priority, Bureau of Technology head Simona Rollinson said, will be updating phones throughout the county’s health system. The updates will end up in 101 locations around the county over the six year term of the contract.

An $8 million bridge contract with Ensono OpCo Holdings, Inc. also won approval, adding to the company’s existing $27 million contract with the county. Rollinson said the county got a 28% price cut. According to the request, the extension was needed to ensure “safehousing” of some technologies still on the county’s mainframe. A $5.5 million contract extension with Oracle for its e-business suite also passed.

Three appointments: Funeral home director Ed Calahan’s appointment to the Medical Examiners Advisory Committee, fraud investigator Von Matthews’ to the County’s Ethics Board, and Ann Kalayil’s appointment to head of the county’s Bureau of Asset Management all passed committee. The group fielded praise and few questions from commissioners. Kalayil, who has a deep political and asset management background, is only the 2nd BAM commissioner in the county’s history. She said she hoped to leverage her federal government experience and increase intergovernmental collaboration.

DELAYED OR REFERRED:

$36 Million Clerk of the Circuit Court Contract: Commissioners delayed consideration of a massive contract to upgrade the 40-year-old mainframe at Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office. Noting the contract’s big price tag and issues other municipalities have had with the vendor, commissioners kicked the item over to the Finance Committee.

The company that won the county’s competitive bid, Tyler Technologies, has had problems with tech rollouts in other cities and counties–including inmates being released early or held too long, personal information being accidentally released, and tens of millions in wrongful billing.

Simona Rollinson, the head of the county’s Bureau of Technology, played down those incidents. She said those issues were because of user error, not wrongdoing on Tyler’s part. Both she and the Chief Information Officer in Brown’s office, Bridget Daney, said Tyler was the most qualified bidder of the seven who responded to the Clerk’s initial request for proposals in 2015. Daney said Tyler cleared “rigorous” procurement standards and showed proof of concept, and got a glowing recommendation from officials in neighboring Kane County. Board President Toni Preckwinkle also stuck up for the procurement process at her post-board press conference.

But several commissioners said they wanted more vetting.

“I find this PowerPoint that’s up there to be very misleading and having a number of half truths in it,” Comm. Larry Suffredin (D-13) said, asking about the roles for two local firms listed on the contract–Clarity Partners LLC and William Everett Group. “What contracts do they currently have with the county?”

Clarity holds several city and county contracts, including a $2.5 million contract to build websites for the Offices under the President, the Board of Review, and the County Clerk; and a $1 million contract with the Sheriff’s office to manage their criminal records. Clarity is familiar with Tyler’s systems and would handle questions from the Clerk’s office, Daney said.

Daney’s answers were somewhat in vain: a delay was apparent before the meeting even started. Commissioners huddled, discussing the best way to kick the contract over to Finance Committee so the full board could vote on it instead. It will likely be considered next month.

Changes to the County’s Beverage Tax: Comm. Sean Morrison introduced an amendment to the county’s sweetened beverage tax that’d allow retailers to separately list the extra charge on receipts, rather than adding the tax into the listed shelf price. When the tax goes into full effect in July, stores and restaurants will have to add the cost on to the price of drinks displayed on menus or on shelves–the sticker on a $0.99 can of pop would instead display $1.11, for example. Morrison says the requirement makes it difficult to separate out the tax on operating systems. He says he’d like to see a separate line item, similar to how liquor taxes are displayed on receipts. The amendment was referred to the Finance Committee.

In Philadelphia, which passed a similar beverage tax, Pepsi has pulled some sales of 2-liters and 12-packs of Pepsi soda, citing a “challenging environment” and a desire to offer “products and package sizes working families are more able to afford,” according to the Inquirer. Consumption of sweetened beverages has dropped there.

President Preckwinkle, who cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the tax during budget negotiations last fall, refused to weigh in. “No comment. It’s been referred to committee.”

Tax Sale Hearing: Rev. Jesse Jackson made an appearance during the public testimony portion of the day to join the chorus of officials concerned about the impact of the upcoming property tax sale on April 3. According to Comm. Bridget Gainer (D-10), thanks to a change in the date of the sale, homeowners have had less time to pay delinquent tax bills, letting tax buyers scoop up that debt and nearly double their earnings–to $40 or $50 million annually. That means less money in county coffers, and property owners paying higher interest rates on their debt, Gainer said..

Several elected officials are raising awareness with constituents. At an event yesterday, Comm. Richard Boykin (D-1), County Treasurer Maria Pappas and former mayoral candidate Dr. Willie Wilson announced the creation of a $150,000 property tax relief fund to give interest free loans to residents at risk of having their property taxes sold on April 3.

Comm. Gainer called for a hearing with Pappas to discuss the impact. Several commissioners voiced support a resolution asking Springfield to change the date of the sale.

OF NOTE:

CCHHS CEO Jay Shannon Wants More from Gov. on ACA Replacement: The CEO of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, Jay Shannon, said he’d like to see a more full-throated defense of Illinois’ Medicaid expansion from Gov. Bruce Rauner. The state “could be facing the loss of at least $40 Billion in federal Medicaid funding over ten years,” the Illinois Hospital Association estimates (conservatively), at a time when the state is ill-equipped to weather a big financial blow. Other Republican governors have spoken out on their desired Medicaid reforms. Dr. Shannon noted both in a conversation with The Daily Line. Gov. Rauner has conceded the state wouldn’t fare well under the AHCA, but has not elaborated yet on changes he’d like to see.

Extra security at county buildings after London attack: County officials and the press were subject to extra security measures before entering the boardroom yesterday. The Cook County Sheriff’s Department confirmed security was beefed up at county courthouses after Wednesday’s deadly attack in London, and those measures likely extended to the County Building.

County’s Springfield lobbying update coming: Cook County’s lobbyist, Scott Cisek, will brief commissioners on items of interest in Springfield at the next meeting of the board in mid-April. One item of note President Preckwinkle said won’t go anywhere until a budget is passed: the county’s pension reform bill.

More committee items on Forest Preserve Day (hopefully): Chairman Daley urged fellow board members to schedule committee hearings on the Tuesday before the full board meeting, seeking again to keep the full board day on schedule. Despite moving consideration of honorary items to Forest Preserve Tuesdays, yesterday’s business didn’t wrap up until about 3:00 p.m.

New Face in 1st District: Comm. Richard Boykin is on-boarding a new Chief of Staff, Kouri Marshall. He’s a D.C. transplant filling a slot in Boykin’s office that’s been empty since November. Per his LinkedIn, Marshall is a principal at 3K1A (a political strategies and public affairs firm) and Executive Director of Democratic GAIN (a national membership association for progressive political professionals and organizations). Boykin described him as “a very talented marketing, press, legislative guy,” and said pending completion of paperwork at county HR, he’ll start in mid-April.



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