Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announced more than $10 million in changes to his proposed budget for next year to try to satisfy the concerns of aldermen troubled by cuts to the library system and other areas, as well as his vehicle sticker price increase.
The changes are relatively small for a spending plan that totals $6.3 billion, and the mayor declared that his overall aim of scaling back city spending and changing the way city business is done would remain intact.
“The fundamental tough choices that we have to make, we will make in this budget,” Emanuel said. “The principles that are laid out in that budget we will hold to. Those are our North stars.”
Emanuel also said the proposed changes indicate his willingness to work with aldermen, rather than try to dictate how business will be done --- a criticism sometimes leveled at his predecessor, former Mayor Richard Daley.
“In the campaign, I said we were going to form a new partnership between the fifth floor, the mayor and City Council, that that the voters did not want Council Wars, and they also did not want a council that would be a rubber stamp,” Emanuel said. “I think this speaks to that partnership I said I was going to do in the campaign. And that is a partnership that hears the aldermen, listens to their suggestions and ideas and then addresses them.”
Instead of raising the sticker fees on 184,000 heavier SUVs, minivans and cars by $60, the mayor now proposes raising the existing $75 fee by $10 across the board. Vehicles already in the heavier weight class would be hit with the same $15 hike that was initially proposed.
The mayor also is addressing the most controversial cuts — about $8.6 million to the day-to-day operations of Chicago Public Libraries — by restoring $3.3 million in funding. That would allow the system to have 100 more employees than initially planned.
It also would allow the mayor to scale back his plan to close all branch libraries until noon on Monday and Friday mornings. Instead, that would only occur on school days, and they would stay open six full days a week during the summer and winter vacations.
The mayor also said he would restore $1 million to the Streets and Sanitation Department budget so more graffiti can be erased and overgrown lawns mowed and weeded.
The costs of the library, graffiti and overgrown lot maintenance would be made up for by increasing fines on vehicles that don’t by their sticker to $200 from $120, as city Clerk Susana Mendoza had suggested. Late fees also would rise to $60 from $40.
Deciding not to place 184,000 vehicles in the heavier weight class also is something of a victory for Mendoza, who protested that such a change would punish families.
In addition, a plan to start charging smaller non-profit institutions for water would be phased in the next three years. That will put a $6 million hole in the water and sewer fund, but it will be made up with increased water rates targeted for a 10-year plan to replace water mains and sewers.
The compromises were announced days after 28 of 50 aldermen sent Emanuel a letter expressing concerns about some of the budget cuts and the sticker fee increases.
Emanuel said he is sticking by his decision to close six of 12 mental health clinics and reduce the numbers of 911 dispatchers and call takers, another proposal that aldermen had expressed concern about.