Emanuel too busy wielding budget ax to talk about garbage-collection fees

SHARE Emanuel too busy wielding budget ax to talk about garbage-collection fees
SHARE Emanuel too busy wielding budget ax to talk about garbage-collection fees

Before lowering the boom on Chicago taxpayers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to convince them he’s cut the fat from a City Hall bureaucracy notorious for its waste and redundant layers of middle management.

That’s apparently why Emanuel didn’t want to talk about imposing Chicago’s first-ever garbage-collection fee or about how his staff is already “testing the waters” for City Council approval of a massive property tax increase to shore up police, fire and teacher pensions.

After an unrelated appearance Thursday to promote an urban garden in East Garfield Park, the only thing the mayor wanted to talk about was wielding the budget ax.

“I’ve always said, you can’t do it just on cuts. And you can’t just do it on tax increases. There’s got to be a blend. But you can’t rely on taxpayers to bail out a government that needs to make fundamental changes,” the mayor said.

“There’s a lot of money locked up and value locked up in old ways of doing things . . . While I appreciate all the aldermen coming forward with ideas about revenue, I’m having the budget team and . . . cabinet go through their own budgets to find cuts and savings in a bureaucracy that, in my view, is bloated and needs to be changed.”

Without offering specifics, Emanuel claimed he has already cut $106 million in city spending and that he “found another $10 million” on Wednesday.

The mayor said he’s getting “some ideas from the bureaucracy” and aldermen on ways to cut costs. But he’s mostly “pushing ideas on the system” because of a resistance to change and an overemphasis on raising revenue.

“People are proposing [revenue] ideas and I welcome the ideas they’re proposing. But I’m going to also make sure the system coughs up, what I would say is cuts and changes to the bureaucracy, so we do it better, do it smarter and find savings,” he said.

Hours later, the mayor’s office released a list of cuts that totaled $32 million.

It includes: $18 million by freezing spending at downtown tax-increment-financing (TIF) districts; $4 million by reforming the city’s investment strategy; $2 million by auctioning off surplus vehicles, vacuum cleaners and refuse carts; $2.2 million by removing redundant printers and eliminating unused cellphones and land lines and $3.3 million by ending free garbage pickups at more than 1,800 multi-unit residential buildings.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that the garbage-collection fees that suburbanites have grown accustomed to paying in addition to their property tax bills will soon be coming to Chicago.

Emanuel said there was a “building consensus” on “at least two” revenue ideas: “Some form of a garbage fee like other communities around the state and country have. [And] a fee around e-cigarettes and other tobacco products that are not cigarettes.”

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, said it was no longer an issue of whether Chicago will have a garbage-collection fee. The question is, how much?

“That’s where the real discussion will take place. It will be around the cost, rather than the enablement. We need to see the numbers that show how much we’ll save and how much it would generate,” he said.

O’Connor noted that a “very large percentage” of Chicagoans already pay for garbage collection. They rent or own in multi-unit residential buildings that don’t get city pickups.

“If you’ve never done it before, a lot of people will say, `This is terrible.’ But, to the extent that Chicago is becoming a destination for people who are not native Chicagoans — and that’s a growing number of people — this isn’t going to be new. It’ll be something they’ve seen before. It might be easier [to sell politically] than we think,” O’Connor said.

Struggling to solve a $30 billion pension crisis that has dropped the city’s bond rating to junk status, Emanuel needs $754 million in new revenue to balance his 2016 budget and shore up police and fire pensions, even under the best-case scenario. And that’s not counting the $9.5 billion pension crisis at the Chicago Public Schools.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said Thursday that garbage and recycling fees “could be an important part of the significant revenues and cost reductions needed” to stabilize city finances.

“The magnitude of the city’s current financial crisis requires that all options be on the table, and we believe user fees should be considered first and are preferable to limit the size of more broad-based, generalproperty or sales tax increases,” Msall wrote in an email.

“The waste-disposal fee is one example of a user fee that has been broadly used by many municipalities throughout Illinois, including many of the adjacent neighbors of the city of Chicago . . . [But] the Civic Federation’s support for any such increases would need to be tied to a long-term plan that balances operating and debt costs with actual revenue and stabilizes the city’s long-term financial health.”

To prove the point about Chicago being an island without garbage-collection fees, Msall attached information about surrounding suburbs.

In Evanston, residents pay a monthly fee of $7.95 per dwelling unit for a 65 gallon cart, $17.95 for a 95 gallon cart and a 30 gallon trash bag, and $7.95 for “any additional wheeled refuse cart of any size.”

Oak Park residents can either choose to pay $23.88 a month for a 96 gallon cart or $19.60 a month for a 64 gallon cart.

In Naperville, the residential refuse fee is $2, and it’s tacked on to monthly utility bills. The fee recovers “only a portion” of the city’s total monthly cost of $12.74 for providing refuse and recycling service to each Naperville household, the Civic Federation document says.

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