I voted in support of the 2021 Chicago Municipal Budget, which was approved by the City Council. The approved budget took on an unprecedented $1.2 billion spending gap. While this gap was primarily due to COVID-19, it remains the largest budget gap in the City of Chicago’s history. Of the estimated $1.2 billion, $783 million was due to COVID-19 revenue losses, and $421 million was due to mandated spending increases, including pension payments.
The budget process included several weeks of hearings with City Departments, rigorous debate, conversations surrounding just how much we could “cut,” and the opportunity to find savings and efficiencies. The City identified $430.9 million in savings by renegotiating our health care contract, improving our accounts receivable management, and improving enforcement and collections of certain fines and fees. Additionally, under this budget, higher-salaried non-union employees will take five furlough days. This group represents 10% of our total workforce, and I will join them next year in taking five days without pay.
Further, by eliminating vacancies, the City saved more than $100 million. While this helps with our current budget gap, these vacancies are not sustainable, especially in the public safety sector. When we dig deeper, it becomes clear that COVID-19 was the real reason we did not fill the Police Academy this year and will likely be why the Academy class will be smaller next year. Of course, once approved and distributed, a vaccine will help us course correct. I remain committed to public safety. I will continue to work with Mayor Lightfoot and Police Superintendent Brown to ensure we fill our Police Academy safely and have adequate manpower in both the 39th Ward and the City of Chicago.
There came a point in the budget deliberations where we could no longer make cuts and eliminate vacancies without minimizing city services to the point where they were nearly nonexistent. Even after finding more than $500 million in internal savings and efficiencies, additional revenues were still needed to cover the budget deficit. Thus, we agreed to a modest property tax increase that puts the City on a path to structural stability. This property tax increase will equal 1.3% of our current tax bill, with billing beginning in 2022. You can see the City’s calculations for the 39th Ward here and an explanation of these property taxes here.
This was a difficult, nuanced vote. There was no way to know that in 2020 our entire way of life would be completely altered, our economy would be turned on its head, and the viability of our City threatened. While no budget is perfect, this budget puts the City on a path to structural balance in the coming years. It does not shy away from our debt, pension, and legal obligations. Through collaboration with my colleagues and labor partners, we avoided hundreds of layoffs and will maintain the level of service our residents deserve. This budget ensures predictability and transparency around property taxes and continued funding for our response to COVID-19. This budget also includes investments in violence prevention, community-based violence intervention, victim services, trauma supports, and mental health resources. Further, we protected much need investments in our Chicago Public Schools.
Even during this global pandemic, we continue to make significant progress. We received additional officers in both the 16th and 17th Police Districts, secured $40 million for an addition to Sauganash school, and cut the ribbon on an addition to Palmer Elementary School. We continue to attract new businesses and are thrilled that Target, Ross Dress for Less, Starbucks, and Sauganash Grill have chosen to call the 39th Ward home during this unprecedented time. We also passed an ordinance, which I sponsored, that preserves the North Park Village and its Nature Center in perpetuity, thus guaranteeing this land will be protected and preserved for all Chicagoans to enjoy for generations to come.
I am grateful to those who reached out to me during the budget process to share your thoughts and concerns. Your feedback is critical, and my office is here to help. You can reach out to the 39th Ward Public Service Office at Ward39@CityOfChicago.org or 773.736.5594.
Thank you. As always, I wish you good health and safety.
Very Truly Yours,
Alderman Samantha Nugent