Mayor Rahm Emanuel today called for raising water fees to repair an aging system, hiring new police and putting in place a congestion tax on downtown parking.
The new mayor delivered his first budget address to theChicago City Council and said change is needed. At the outset of his first budget speech, Emanuel criticized former Mayor Richard Daley's spending habits.
"The truth is, Chicago's last 10 city budgets have been in the red," said Emanuel, who did not mention Daley by name. "Chicago cannot afford this kind of government any longer."
During his half-hour speech, Emanuel said he's not going to raise sales or property taxes and will cut the employee head tax.
But water fees would increase if the City Council goes along. "Residents of Chicago currently pay the lowest price for water of any big city in America," he said. "Today, we are asking for an increase in the fee for our water system. In return, we will greatly accelerate its repair."
Emanuel said he's against privatizing the water system, but called it an aging one that needs upgrades. Water fee hikes would help pay for repairs.
The new mayor also proposed a $2 downtown congestion tax on parking lots downtown and in River North during weekdays. And SUV owners would pay more for city stickers, he said.
Library hours would be cut on Monday and Friday mornings to save $7 million a year. Three regional libraries would remain open seven days a week, he said. Branches could stay open six days a week, if library employees work with City Hall, he said.
Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, said Emanuel's budget plan will enjoy "a clear majority."
"We're at a point now where the city's finances are in such serious condition that the city government simply can't do business the way it has done business over the years," said Burke, the powerful Finance Committee chairman.
The Civic Federation gave an early thumbs-up.
“Almost two thirds of the operating deficit is going to be eliminated if the City Council follows the mayor’s recommendations,” said Laurence Msall, president of the non-partisan Civic Federation. “That’s showing great restraint on not growing the expenditure side.”
Emanuel also intends to take police vacancies off the books to save money, ending the shell game where Daley and aldermen set aside money to fill Police Department vacancies but spent the money elsewhere.
"Finally, we're going to end the charade of carrying hundreds of police officer vacancies without actually hiring them. Protecting public safety requires officers on the beat, not phantom cops on the books. Yet, for years the city kept listing vacancies without ever filling them. Everybody knew what was going on, but nobody let the public in on it," according to a prepared copy of Emanuel's speech.
"Well, I'm not going to play that game any longer. We need to be honest with the people of Chicago. So those police vacancies -- and the tax dollars supposedly allocated to them -- are coming off the books," Emanuel intends to say. "My budget will pay for two classes of cadets at the Police Academy next year. They will be real officers on the beat -- not ghost officers on a budget line."
According to the budget book, City Hall will maintain vacant positions for 100 police officers from next year’s cadet classes. There are about 1,400 vacancies.
Emanuel also is proposing the closure of three police stations: Wood, on the near West Side; Belmont, near North Center; and Prairie, which is less than a mile away from police headquarters on the South Side.The Police and Fire Departments also would consolidate bomb and arson squads, the marine unit, and the anti-terrorism unit. And detective bureaus would decrease from five to three.
The Belmont station serves Emanuel's own neighborhood. Emanuel said he knows he gets police protection than the average citizen. But says he also knows he won’t have the job for ever. “And after everything I just went through, I plan to stay in my house for quite a long time,” Emanuel joked, a reference to a tenant that stayed through the end of his lease.
Burke said he would support McCarthy if the superintendent thinks it's appropriate to close out the unfilled police department positions. "If he believes he can police the streets and keep the citizens safe with that number of personnel, then so be it. It's on his watch, and he's putting his reputation on the line."
Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th, said Emanuel took union leaders' suggestion that the city payroll is top-heavy in management positions to heart in eliminating 510 management positions as part of his budget proposal. "I just think that there's no pride of authorship in terms of a good idea that relates to the budget," O'Connor said.
"I don't think that means we're going to give them bon bons across the bargaining table, and I don't think they expect that," O'Connor said of future negotiations with unions. "We're still going to be working on trying to get lean labor agreements that are going to save the city taxpayers some money."
O'Connor said he expects some changes to the budget plan, both from aldermen and the Emanuel administration. "Certainly, some of the smaller ticket items, if we can replace them with revenue neutral and expenditure neutral positions or exchanges, I don't think they're going to be worried about whether or not that works," O'Connor said.
As examples, O'Connor said aldermen have privately questioned the loading zone fee increases and the "congestion tax" for downtown parking lots. "The mayor, essentially, in our briefing yesterday on the budget, said that 'If you've got money to replace it, I'm all ears, but if not, this is our best shot. Now it's in your hands," he said.
City Clerk Susana Mendoza came out against Emanuel's proposed city sticker increase for SUV drivers.
“I think before we look to increase, or ask more from them, we should be going after the people who are not paying for their city sticker, or who are late in paying their sticker fee," Mendoza said.
Mendoza suggested increasing the $120 fine for failing to get a sticker to $200. “I say let’s go after those folks, who we know are not in compliance, and hit them for a larger fee, so they feel the pain a little bit more, instead of the mom who is driving her kids to school,” she said.
Other items in the budget:
*Salting away $20 million in a rainy day fund.
*Increases on impoundment fees for those arrested for DUI.
*Emanuel also would boost the city share of the hotel tax by a percentage point, to 5.5 percent. And there would be an extra fee for parking in downtown garages during rush hour that is part of a “congestion pricing plan,” the sources said.
*The budget also relies on declaring a relatively modest surplus in the city’s special taxing districts, the sources said. Sometime next year, the city also would move to pick up garbage based on a grid system, a step that could save tens of millions of dollars a year.
In late July, Emanuel pegged the city’s budget shortfall for next year at $636 million, or about one fifth of day-to-day city spending.
Emanuel ended his speech with a pep talk for aldermen who will be asked to approve his budget, saying they should defy doubters and come together and fix the city budget.
"Almost every one of these ideas has been discussed and debated before. But politics has stood in the way of their adoptions. It just wasn’t the way things were done in Chicago," Emanuel said.
"As someone who’s spent much of my life in politics, I understand that. And maybe in the past we could afford the political path. But we have come to the point where we can’t afford it any longer. The cost of putting political choices ahead of practical solutions has become too expensive. It is destroying Chicago’s finances and threatening the city’s future."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun