City Concerned

By Vanessa Morton

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s effort to alleviate the city’s financial crisis has been dealt a setback as the public and City Council members called for changes in his 2012 city budget plan.

A “Dear Rahm” letter—signed by 28 of the city’s 50 aldermen—was sent to the mayor on Nov.1. The letter expressed concerns regarding the proposed budget cuts to library funding, the consolidation of 12 mental health clinics into six, reductions in graffiti removal crews and a cutback of $10 million from public safety operations at the city’s 911 call center.

“We are appreciative of the efforts you and your staff have made to address the dire fiscal situation that we face as a city,” the letter stated. “However, some of the proposed budget calls for cuts to essential services that the residents of the city of Chicago rely upon. These cuts will have a negative effect on the safety and quality of life of our residents and must be averted.”

Emanuel addressed the letter on Nov. 2 in the City Council conference room. While he said he was open to discuss alternatives to his budget proposal, Emanuel also stated that he would not be “open to changing where we’re going.”

“There’s some issues, and we’re going to work through on a couple issues,” he said. “But we’re not going back to a budget or a budget process that doesn’t shape our future, doesn’t make tough choices and [we’re going to] put Chicago’s financial house in order.”

However, it wasn’t until the extensive public budget hearing that members of the City Council heard stories from more than 50 people regarding how the proposed cuts would affect their lives.

Groups of library supporters, mental health patients and facilitators lined up alongside the podium, waiting for their turn to speak.

Robert Wislow, chairman of the Public Library Foundation, shared with the audience how the Chicago Public Library has helped shape his life as a businessman, and the vital role of libraries today.

Author Sara Paretsky, a representative of the CPL, told the aldermen to reconsider the library reductions because cutting its funding would reduce its ability to serve the people of Chicago.

“The budget cuts that are contemplated will shut the door on our neighborhood libraries just at the time that people need them the most, and a city is more than a bottom line,” Paretsky said. “It’s possible that by making drastic budget cuts we could balance this budget overnight, but we would pay a very steep price for this in the future for the economic liability of our city.”

Joel Johnson, CEO of the Human Resources Development Institute, said through these cuts their agency has experienced a 20 percent rate reduction, which ultimately affects the funding of Chicago’s social and safety net gear.

“Recognizing that there are other funding priorities [and] other important budget issues, we would just encourage alternative funding opportunities to be explored,” Johnson said. “I just ask you to consider that option as we look at the impact that the loss of these types of programs have on our community.”

However, Emanuel stood firm at the conference,saying the budget cuts were vital to solving Chicago’s “structural deficit.”

“We’re going to have to make sure that we have the costs, the savings and the reforms that are in the system, and that is what is important to me,” he said.