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Chicagoans vent about property tax hike at final budget hearing

South Side resident Arnold Julien speaks during the last of three town hall budget hearings Thursday night at Wright College in Chicago. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

The third and final town hall budget hearing Thursday night at Wright College was a tame affair compared to the previous evening, when protesters forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel from the stage.

About 200 people attended the hearing. About 50 people used their 60 seconds of microphone time to give their views on everything from requiring license plates for bikes to intolerable funding cuts for special education.

Emanuel scribbled notes and often pointed at one of his department heads in the front row to follow up on the issues.

Faith Smith read from a list she made of positions at the Department of Streets and Sanitation that she sees as redundant.

“He said he wanted ideas on how to save. I’ll give him some ideas,” said Smith, a preschool teacher from Edison Park, referring to Emanuel.

Emanuel said very little at the event. He did not talk about the $500 million raise in property taxes he is seeking. Nor did he go into the garbage fee he wants Chicagoans to pay to help plug a $754 million budget gap.

One speaker bluntly told Emanuel he should expect an exodus of citizens who are beyond frustrated by the potential property tax increase.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during Thursday night’s town hall hearing. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Emanuel didn’t take the bait when dozens in the crowd began chanting their support for the 12 hunger strikers who said they will not accept the compromise reached Thursday on Dyett High School. Chicago Public School officials announced a plan to turn Dyett into an open-enrollment neighborhood school with a focus on the arts.

But the activists said they will continue their hunger strike until their proposal to turn Dyett into a green technology neighborhood school is adopted.

Supporters of the plan stormed the stage at the second town hall budget hearing Wednesday night, causing Emanuel to retreat with a police escort.

At Thursday night’s hearing, several public speakers expressed concern with the O’Hare Modernization Project, pleading with Emanuel for relief from the constant noise of airplanes flying over their Northwest Side homes.

After the 90-minute hearing ended, Emanuel pulled aside three concerned citizens to chat privately about the issue.

“It was a stand-up move on his part to do that, and I’m not going to discuss what we said to each other,” said Jimmy Nuter, a member of the Fair Allocation of Runways coalition, also known as FAIR.

About 200 people attended the last of three town hall budget hearings Thursday night. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times