Emanuel proposes fees, combining police, fire HQ

October 13, 2011 6:09:15 AM PDT
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has unveiled his first budget proposal to tackle the city's $636 million deficit.

Under his plan, residents will have to pay more to stay in hotels and park in city parking garages and lots.

In a relief for homeowners, the plan does not include a property tax increase.

Emanuel's proposal also includes new fees and reduced library hours. The mayor also wants to consolidate police and fire headquarters.

The mayor's long-awaited budget speech set the stage for historic changes in the size of and how Chicago city government works.

Much of his speech was leaked Tuesday, but not what he said about raising the rates Chicagoans pay for water to finance a ten-year program to repair the city's underground main system.

Two-thirds of the spending plan was composed of cuts and efficiencies and reflected work that began months before the mayor was inaugurated.

"Chicago cannot afford this kind of government any longer," Emanuel said in his budget address Wednesday.

From the very beginning of his speech, Emanuel made it clear to the aldermen that his budget would be a complete break from the style of his predecessor. There would be no quick fixes by tapping one-time revenue sources. Tax and fee deadbeats will be forced to pay up, and even churches and not-for-profits will have to pay city water and sewer bills for the first time.

"To everyone who has not paid their fair share: Ladies and Gentlemen, the free ride is over," said Emanuel.

The mayor wants the fire and police department brass to share the police headquarters at 35th and Michigan to combine communications and technology services.

He proposed closing two of the five detective bureaus and three of the city's 25 police districts including the nearly 60-year-old Prairie Station on the South Side.

"After all, it's beat officers who fight crime, not bureaucrats and buildings," said Emanuel.

"I wanna make sure that we're not gonna have a negative impact on public safety and I haven't been given enough information to this point to be supportive of this decision," said 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns.

"Is this something that we would do if we didn't have the budget crisis? The answer is: Given a blank slate, I would have constructed it in the same fashion that we just did," said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

The mayor wants increased hotel tax downtown parking garage taxes, a proposal met with some degree of skepticism by 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly.

"You want to make sure that you're deriving new revenue sources that aren't gonna have an adverse impact on important industries in the City of Chicago," said Reilly.

And to the unions, for the first time a Chicago mayor was unafraid to speak publicly of privatization, or at the very least requiring city workers to bid against private companies to see who can do the job at the lowest price.

"No matter who wins the bidding to provide these services, the biggest winner will be the residents and taxpayers of Chicago," said Emanuel.

The morning's biggest surprise involved water. The mayor proposed increasing the amount Chicagoans pay for water over the next three years.

"For year one, the extra cost will equal about five cups of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts - a month," said Emanuel.

The rate could be reduced if homeowners have water meters to pay exactly for what they use.

"Instead of just having an estimated bill that may or may not reflect their usage, they're going to have an actual bill that shows exactly what they use," said 45th Ward Ald. John Arena.

"The mayor, I think, presented the first honest budget this city council has seen in a decade. That's refreshing," said Reilly.

In his speech, the mayor said Chicagoans living next to the largest fresh water source in the world pay the lowest water rates of any big city in the country. He said the water system reconstruction project would mean 18,000 jobs during the next decade.

The mayor's speech also confirmed that he hopes to save money by moving to a grid system for picking up garbage throughout the city and allowing private companies to bid for work currently done by city employees. If the private companies can do it for less, they will get the job.

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