City Council approves 2009 budget

CHICAGO The one thing that this budget doesn't raise is property taxes. But that's about the only good news as the city copes with its worst financial crisis in decades.

The City Council voted 49-to-1 to approve Mayor Richard M. Daley's 2009 budget.

The mayor's budget office announced months ago that Chicago faced a $469 million deficit. The new spending plan uses three different methods to fill the shortfall: layoffs of city workers, the sales of city assets, as well as some new fees and very targeted taxes.

The nearly unanimous vote happened after over two hours of speeches, several minutes each by dozens of aldermen, most bemoaning the fact that as many as 635 city workers will be laid off.

"They're not statistics, they're people, people that will need help. And if there's one thing that we should here in this City Council, it's to find a way to help these people that will be out of work," said Ald. James Balcer, 11th Ward.

The spending plan requires that fewer police officers are hired but that no cops or firefighters would be among the laid off workers. The budget also requires the city not to fill 1,600 vacant positions.

The 26th Ward's Billy Ocasio was the only alderman to oppose the budget.

"What we're doing here is the wrong thing. We're laying off the people who actually do the work rather than the people who sit behind the desks," said Ald. Billy Ocasio, 26th Ward.

Mayor Daley was proud of the budget, passed without a general tax increase in a perilous national economy.

"This is an economic tragedy going on in this country. And it's getting much more significant. At least we laid the foundation, passed our budget," said Mayor Daley.

The Daley administration plans to generate new revenue by leasing the city's parking meters to a still undetermined private company. It will use other proceeds from the Midway Airport lease and will levy higher taxes on parking and show tickets.

Chicago also will increase library fines and will charge a new fee on dumpsters used by businesses and multi-unit apartment buildings. That measure caused the most controversy during the budget process.

"Small retailers, small business owners, condominium owners, can't handle this extra burden," said Ald. Brendan Riley, 42nd Ward.

The mayor warned weeks ago that some city services might arrive less quickly than in the past, including snow removal and storm cleanup.

Aldermen who voted for the 2009 budget did so with a warning to city departments.

"I want to see equity and parity in the services that's going to be provided across the board. So you can't go work in someone's ward and not get mine, because I'm going to be looking at you," said Ald. Ed Smith, 21st Ward.

On the dumpster tax again: the aldermen who opposed it say, when building owners pass it on, it will immediately raise rents and condominium assessments.

That fee does not become effective until April of next year. Alderman Reilly, for one, says he'll fight to get it overturned and replaced with some other revenue stream.

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