Mayor Emanuel unveils 2013 budget
Aldermen scramble to digest impact to programs
10/17/2012 10:00 PM
The 2013 City of Chicago budget was shrouded in mystery. In a break from tradition, Mayor Rahm Emanuel didn’t hold preliminary budget meetings and the aldermen only received the general outlines a day before the budget was officially unveiled. So as the mayor stood before the City Council to unveil his second budget on Oct. 10 at 10 a.m., few people had any idea what to expect.
Compared to Emanuel’s first budget, the 2013 budget is less ambitious. It doesn’t call for sweeping cuts to popular city programs, and it doesn’t raise taxes and fees. It provides incentives for small businesses. It allocates funds to several new and long-awaited neighborhood projects that deal with libraries, business and transit.
At the same time, the budget restructures a number of city programs, including the community policing program and the city’s rodent control program. And while the efforts of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus ensured that the public would have opportunity to offer ideas and feedback, it is unclear how much of it will make it into the final budget.
One of the most notable aspects of the budget is the creation of the Department of Business Affairs and Customer Protection’s Small Business Center. The center would offer start-up counseling, financial assistance and case management for new and existing small businesses. The key advantage to the center is that it would be offering services city-wide, providing opportunities for businesses in underdeveloped commercial corridors. The center will also “serve as an advocate for small businesses,” though the budget doesn’t elaborate on what it would actually entail.
In contrast to the 2012 budget, the 2013 budget increases funding for the Chicago Public Library, though it is still below 2011 levels. Part of that increased budget would go into improving library computers and other information technology infrastructure. It would also be used to add programming and technology-related classes.
The budget allocates funding for several previously announced transit projects, including the construction of Green Line Cermak ‘L’ station, Chicago Union Station improvements and the rebuilding of the Wells Street Bridge.
It also announced $22 million in federal funds for the Clark/Division ‘L’ station rehabilitation. The rehabilitation will include the rebuilding existing mezzanine and platform structure and the construction of the new entrance on LaSalle Street. The station will receive new stairs, fare turnstiles, elevators and escalators.
The budget does contain one unexpected item — $37.5 million in federal funds for the Washington/Wabash ‘L’ station. The project, which has been in the works since the 1980s, would replace the current Madison/Wabash and Randolph/Wabash ‘L’ stations with a new intermediate station. The project has stalled due to the lack of construction funding. While the new funding doesn’t fully cover construction costs, estimated to be $75 million as of fall 2011, it makes the project that much more likely to be completed.
The budget also calls for a number of road improvement projects throughout Near West Side. It allocates TIF funding for Western Avenue streetscape improvements between Lake and Monroe streets, and allocates a combination of state and federal funds toward traffic signal improvements along Roosevelt Road between Western Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.
On the other hand, the budget offers conflicting messages about the long-planned relocation of Finkl & Sons steel forging plant. The budget boasts that the plant would be fully operational at the new Burnside location by the fourth quarter of 2013. The language suggests that the Department of Housing and Economic Development is more certain about the move than it was in the past.
However, the budget does not offer any new funding for the project beyond the $22.5 million in TIF funds announced on June 27. That funding was essentially a relocation incentive, offering financial benefits that the plant would only be able to take advantage of once it decides to move. It remains to be seen whether or not the company will actually choose to take advantage of the funding.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental changes the 2013 budget proposes the restructuring of Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program. The budget document frames the change as an effort to cut down on needless bureaucracy, stating, in part:
“The City’s CAPS program has as many people in the office downtown as in the districts they are supposed to serve. The 2013 budget proposes moving CAPS resources out of downtown and back into the districts where they belong and putting every commander in charge of their own community policing office.”
However, what this amounts to in practice is the closing of the CAPS Implementation Office. All of its programs would be handled by the district offices. The central office is currently responsible for organizing court advocacy programs, handling community outreach and coordinating cooperative efforts between CAPS and various city agencies.
But perhaps most importantly, the central office had the power to help district offices with funding and resources if they ran into unexpected or difficult problems. With the office shut down, the district offices would be left on their own.
The budget also calls for the closing of the Department of Street and Sanitation’s Bureau of Rodent Control. Its functions would be folded into the Bureau of Sanitation. While that in itself is not necessarily a problem, the consolidation comes with some cuts. Rodent control budget would be reduced from $5,459,396 to $4,147,923, and the staff would be reduced from 79 to 46 full-time employees.
Originally, the City Council intended to only hold one public hearing on the budget on Oct. 31 at 10 a.m. Concerned that this wouldn’t provide any meaningful feedback, Amisha Patel, the executive director of Grassroots Collaborative, reached out to several reform-minded aldermen.
As the result, the majority of the Progressive Caucus, including Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) were able to organize three additional public hearings. The first hearing was held at Jefferson Park’s Copernicus Center on Oct. 15. The next meeting will be held at Wells High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave., on Oct. 24, at 6 p.m.
Fioretti told the Chicago Journal that he was studying the budget line-by-line and comparing it to the 2012 budget to better gauge the impact of the budget cuts and proposed changes.
“There are a lot of rosy predictions [in this budget],” said Fioretti. “If certain things don’t happen in our economy, we will have to make adjustments. I don’t want to be sitting [at a City Council meeting] several months from now, arguing about which jobs and services to cut.”
He said that he and the other Progressive Caucus aldermen will use the feedback from the public hearings in the council’s own budget hearings and try to ensure that at least some of the feedback into the final budget. And if some ideas don’t make it into the budget, Fioretti said that he will push for them next year.