City Council Passes Painful Budget

After two hour debate, budget passes with 49-1 vote

Mayor Daley’s $6 billion 2009 budget -- precariously balanced with 650 or fewer layoffs, slow police hiring and $52.5 million worth of taxes, fines and fees -- sailed through the City Council Wednesday amid concern about even tougher times ahead, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The final vote was 49-1 after a two-hour debate, with Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th) casting the lone vote against.  Ocasio complained that many of the job cuts were in the wrong areas.  He also questioned why the budget didn't provide enough money for social services in his ward, yet financing is available for projects like Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain and Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.

About 50 upper-level positions in the mayor's administration are being cut, after much criticism that the payroll there was too fat.

Library fines will be doubled, two overdue parking tickets will warrant a boot, free trolleys will be eliminated, Fire Department Segway patrols in the Loop will be eliminated and much more (less) is written into the 2009 plan.

Last year, a Daley budget that included a record $276.5 million in tax and fee increases, including the largest property tax increase in Chicago history, drew 13 dissenting votes.

The $6 billion budget is a painful one for the city, which faces a $469 million shortfall.

City layoffs first proposed months ago as a way to cut the budget will not be a deep as originally proposed. The 929 jobs on the cutting block has become 770, still representing a large number of jobs lost, or about 16% of the city's workforce.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation will be hardest hit by the layoffs, which could mean a slower response to snow removal needs, pot hole repairs and garbage pickup.

New taxes will total about $52 million and come mostly by way of parking and entertainment add-ons.

Other revenue-generating moves include increasing garage parking taxes, hastening the use of the Denver Boot, increasing taxes on theater and sporting event tickets and placing a fee on Dumpsters.  There was also a fee increase compromise in the cost of residential guest parking permits.  Daley had proposed an increase from $10 to $20 for 30 permits.  They compromised on an increase to $16. 

The yearly application and daily permit fees for Maxwell Street Market vendors will likely triple to raise an extra $700,000.  The move helps avoid the elimination of the "jumping jack" program that provides inflatable playgrounds at block parties across the city, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Among the scariest of cuts, only 200 police officers will be hired during all of 2009, saving $10 million.  With more than 400 vacancies already and an annual attrition rate of 600, Chicago could end the year 800 officers short of the police strength it had on Jan. 1, 2008, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. 

"During tough economic times, this is a responsible budget that balances the need to cut spending and the need to protect our working families and those who struggle to make ends meet," Daley said in a statement issued to the city.

The mayor's 2009 budget proposal does not call for a property tax increase. Many aldermen have said they are more likely to vote for the budget because it does not raise property taxes at a time when home values are falling.

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