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Residents to voice opinions on city budget shortfall

August 19, 2008 6:53:34 PM PDT
Taxes are up. Now there's talk of cutting city workers and public services as the city of Chicago looks for additional ways to fill a $420 million hole in its budget. The public has been invited to weigh in for the first time on the issue.

Jose Valez sells water to help pay the rent. Miquel Olavarria is chagrined by the cost of food. Across the street at the Value Mart auto dealership, Nerhu Pina is upset that the county sales tax hike is killing car sales.

"The taxes are coming up and up. It's impossible - worse than New York now," he said.

That's a slice of life at Cicero and Diversey on the Northwest Side, where the city Tuesday night will hold the first of its public hearings on a city budget with big problems.

"City Hall will have to look at personnel cuts, whether layoffs, furloughs or benefit reductions. Somehow personnel expenditures will have to be reduced," said Lise Valentine, Civic Federation.

When 80 percent of the budget is wrapped up in personnel and the budget hole may be upwards of $400 million, personnel's got to give. The city welcomed a new group of firefighter paramedics Tuesday, prompting the question - might the mayor even consider cuts to police and fire budgets?

"Everybody's jumping. I know you need a headline, but again, we are in a recession in the country. There's major problems in the economy. Let's not jump to the headlines that scare people. We have to work this out, we know that. We'll be able to work this out in a professional way," said Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

"Why should they cut police money? They protect the children and protect everybody," said Juan Perez, Northwest Side resident.

That's certainly a refrain the city will hear over and over - don't cut public safety. But then where do you cut? For starters, the civic federation says the aldermen should forego their pay raises.

"If you're the elected official who has to make decisions about what personnel should be cut, it certainly sets a bad example if you're not willing to cut or keep steady your own salary," Valentine said.

The pay raise due aldermen is a cost-of-living salary bump. It's just a drop in the bucket compared to the budget shortfall, but symbolically it carries a lot of weight as aldermen and the mayor's budget designers navigate where and what to cut.

MORE CITY OF CHICAGO BUDGET HEARINGS

Wednesday 7 p.m.
Central West Regional Center
2102 W. Ogden Ave.

Thursday 7 p.m.
South Shore Cultural Center
7059 S. South Shore Drive


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