Aldermen concerned over proposed budget cuts

November 2, 2011 4:41:08 PM PDT
As the city of Chicago grapples with its budget crisis, more than two dozen aldermen have signed a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel expressing concerns over some of his proposed cuts.

There was debate at Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting.

"We need to talk about it and see where we can make it less painful for people in the city of Chicago," Ald. Walter Burnett said.

In the letter, the aldermen have asked to meet with top officials in the mayor's office so they can talk about the budget and try to find a compromise.

While Mayor Emanuel can propose a budget, he needs the Chicago City Council's approval to implement it.

Currently, it appears a majority of the aldermen are against him. Twenty-eight of the 50 aldermen have signed the letter to the mayor.

Mayor Emanuel has proposed cuts to libraries, public health centers and the city's 911 center. The aldermen say the cuts will have a negative effect on their constituents.

"Most importantly are the cuts at OEMC and libraries. Libraries are the cornerstones of our neighborhoods," said 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz. "What's wrong with this picture? Increased school day hours, reduced library hours. That just doesn't make sense."

The mayor's budget director responds that if the aldermen want to make changes, they need to find other places to come up with the savings.

Aldermen said they're getting flooded with e-mails protesting cuts, especially the mayor's plan to reduce hours at public libraries

Freshman Ald. John Arena of the city's 45th Ward helped craft the letter to the mayor.

"I think this is a strong budget. The mayor took on a lot of sacred cows and a lot of tough issues. I applaud him for that, but these are things we think we can do a little bit better on. I think these are solvable issues," Arena said.

Aldermen will hear from the public in a budget hearing. They expect librarians and other citizens who have reservations about certain budget cuts to speak.

Since proposing the cuts and fee increases to close more than a one-half billion dollar deficit, the mayor has already heard from a number of groups that would be directly affected by the cuts. Two days ago, dozens of Chicago librarians protested outside his office.

Also, during public hearings, residents who live near police stations that are slated to be closed voiced concerns about the effect the cuts would have on safety.

Alderman Arena says he understands that this is all part of the negotiation process.

"We are coming up with solutions, but at the end of the day, this is the mayor's budget. He has the team that knows where all the money is. We're doing what we can to help him find that," said Arena.

Meanwhile, representatives from Chicago's parking industry were handing out fliers Wednesday to people who park in downtown lots. The CEO of InterPark is urging customers to call their aldermen to protest higher parking taxes in the proposed budget. They believe extra fees will drive business out of the city.

"Our concern is when you take a parking tax that is $3 today, the city tax, and you increase it to $5, that is a 57-percent increase, seems to be an awful big bite," said Marshall Peck CEO InterPark.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he responded to the letter, telling ABC7 that he is open to discussing solutions to generate revenue. He says he has been meeting with aldermen regularly since he proposed the budget.

Emanuel, who's trying to resolve a 635 million dollar deficit, said he'd listen to suggestions on how to reduce spending. But the bottom line, he said, cannot change.

"We could not kick the can down the road any longer because we've run out of road and the can's pretty dented," Emanuel said.

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