City Council approves 2009 budget

By Mandy Treccia

Chicago City Council members voted 49-1 to pass a difficult 2009 budget, hit hard by low funds and a declining economy, on Nov. 19.

The $6 billion budget, which Mayor Richard M. Daley unveiled on Oct. 15, calls for 635 city employees to be laid off, the elimination of 1,346 vacant jobs, six partial government shutdowns around the holidays—including the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve—and the hiring of only 200 police officers during 2009 to save $10 million.

The city will also raise its amusement tax to 5 percent on live theatrical, musical and cultural performances in venues seating more than 750 and 9 percent for sporting events, concerts and movies. The amusement tax will also be extended to include 135,000 Chicagoans who get their cable TV by installing satellite dishes.

The parking tax on motorists who pay more than $12 to park will also increase from $2.25 to $3 per car under the new budget. The city will also be raising the cost of residential guest parking permit passes from $10 to $16, and the “Denver boot” threshold will be lowered from three unpaid parking tickets to two in a one-year period.

Chicago resident Dennis Schoenbeck, who lives in Logan Square, said he was disappointed the city was raising taxes and fees at a time when most people are struggling to make ends meet in an unstable economy.

“Cook County already has the highest sales tax in the country,” Schoenbeck said. “Now we’re going to have to pay more money for movies, parking and everything else.”

Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th Ward) cast the only vote against the budget.

Luis Padial, director of development in the alderman’s office, said Ocasio voted against the budget because he felt the layoffs would affect workers on the street who do the most work and get paid the least amount of money.

“[It seems] the city can find millions of dollars to fund the 2016 Olympic [bid] and Buckingham Fountain renovations,” Padial said. “We need money to pay people who are out in the community doing work.”

With the service cuts in the 2009 budget, response time for everyday services will be slower. It will take longer to tow abandoned cars, clean up vacant lots, trim trees and repair street lights. It will also take longer for sanitation workers to plow side streets and alleys when there are light or moderate snowfalls to help control overtime costs, according to the 2009 budget.

Janet Barkwill has lived in Chicago for nearly 30 years and said she is worried about how the service cuts will affect her commute to work in the winter.

“Last year there was the huge pothole problem, and it took forever for the city to fix them,” Barkwill said. “Now the city is telling us to expect delays in service. I find it hard to believe Chicago doesn’t have enough money to pay [its] workers.”

In addition to the service cuts, the budget calls for using funding from the Midway Airport lease to establish a five-year $100 million annuity fund, which would give the city $20 million per year to better manage city departments.

The city plans to save $5 million by consolidating departments that handle consumer issues, human services, economic development and business affairs.

Daley called the Midway lease the “good news” in the budget in a press release on Oct. 15.

“The Midway agreement provides the city with approximately $900 million in funding that we desperately need to improve our aging infrastructure,” Daley said in a statement.