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Emanuel applauds aldermen who ‘took the tough votes’ in final budget address

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2019 budget recommendations

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2019 budget recommendations were officially unveiled on Wednesday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday took the wraps off a $10.66 billion 2019 budget that holds the line on taxes, fines and fees and still invests heavily in police reform, crime fighting, housekeeping services and mentoring and summer jobs for at-risk youth.

In his final budget address to the City Council, Emanuel asked his allies to take a bow for making the tough decisions that have begun to solve the city’s $28 billion pension crisis and put Chicago in a position to keep spending on what’s important. Never mind that a $1 billion spike in pension payments will confront the next mayor and City Council.

“Getting the city back on track has not been a walk in the park. And by no means is our work finished. But that does not mean we should undersell the journey we took and the work we did in this chamber,” the mayor said.

“We took the tough votes. You demonstrated political courage. … They do not build statues for people who restore fiscal stability. But without sound, strong, stable finances, nothing else is possible. … You will not get a statue. But you have built something … more lasting than a statue. You have built a foundation.”

In 2011, Emanuel inherited a pension crisis and a $635 million structural deficit. He stood before the City Council to unveil a city budget that closed six mental health clinics and three police stations, eliminated 1,400 police vacancies, reduced library hours, doubled water and sewer rates and raised city sticker fees as well as hiking taxes on parking and hotel stays.

“Some predicted Chicago would be the next Detroit,” he recalled Wednesday.

What a difference seven years makes.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel delivered his final budget speech to the Chicago City Council on Wednesday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Thanks to the $2 billion mountain of taxes already raised and cuts already made, his final budget holds the line on taxes, fines and fees. The only exceptions: the nickel-a-ride increase in ride-sharing fees for the CTA built into last year’s spending plan, and the third installment of a 29.5 percent surcharge tacked on to water and sewer bills.

There may also be some increases in user fees, some of which have not been raised since the 1990s. But Budget Director Samantha Fields said the amount of money raised will “collectively” not exceed $5 million.

The $10.66 billion budget includes a $175 million tax-increment-financing (TIF) surplus. That will generate $42 million for the city and $96.9 million for Chicago Public Schools.

Thanks to a $450 million windfall from the state, CPS also will be asked to reimburse the city for half the cost of the 211 Chicago Police officers assigned to public schools. That’s $16.5 million.

In addition, a $14 million corporate fund subsidy that helped CPS bankroll Safe Passage and other after-school programs this year will be cut off.

Now that CPS is out of the woods, at least for the time being, Fields said the school system no longer needs that corporate fund subsidy and is in a strong enough position to assume half the cost of school officers.

Emanuel’s plan to put a more intense focus on Chicago’s affordable housing crisis by resurrecting the disbanded Department of Housing will cost $4.3 million, but only $1.4 million of that is new money. Many of the department’s 85 employees will be transferred from the Department of Planning and Development.

The budget includes $113 million in “additional investments” for summer jobs, mentoring and nuts-and-bolts housekeeping services like rodent control, tree trimming and garbage cart replacement that aldermen and their constituents hold dear.

Chicago City Council

In his final budget address, Mayor Rahm Emanuel thanked aldermen for making tough choices to put the city on firmer financial ground. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

More than 22 percent of that money — $25.7 million — will help implement a consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department.

That money covers 160 sworn officers and 26 civilians. They include: $4 million for 40 new sergeants to comply with the mandated ratio of no more than ten officers for every supervisor; $3.6 million for training, including 40 officers and ten more sergeants; $1.57 million for 23 evidence technicians; and $284,000 to hire four more detectives to beef up the Bureau of Internal Affairs.

“Our goal is to make CPD better and make the city safer. These things will help. Will it get us where we want to be? No. But, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who hopes to remain on the job, even after a new mayor is sworn in.

“For years, our sergeants have been taxed, over-worked. Best practices show that ratio should be a lot lower than it’s historically been at CPD. Getting it down to 1-in-10 or 1-in-8 is critical to them being able to be as effective as they need to be.”

To confront an alarming wave of officer suicides tied to rock-bottom morale, the city will add seven clinical therapists, one assistant director and launch an “officer suicide prevention campaign” and purchase scheduling software to support its employee assistance program.

“The average for law enforcement suicides across the country is, maybe three-per-year. And we had three in three months. We just have to do a better job as a department on ensuring that we get these officers the resources they need,” Johnson said.

Another $514,000 will go toward rebuilding the city’s moribund community policing program. And $348,096 more will be used to establish a four-employee “Office of Violence Prevention” inside the mayor’s office to develop “comprehensive, evidence-based set of solutions to reduce shootings and homicides” in neighborhoods with “at-risk populations” plagued by gang violence.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability is in line for an additional $1.4 million — enough to hire six more employees, upgrade technology systems and bolster its mediation program, training and materials.

The monitoring team charged with riding herd over CPD under the federal consent decree gets a $2.85 million budget. That’s only for the first year of monitoring; the oversight is expected to drag on for the better part of the next decade.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel leaves the Chicago City Council chamber after delivering his final budget speech. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The Police Department is winding down a two-year hiring surge aimed at adding 970 additional police officers over and above attrition after years of retrenchment under Emanuel that caused overtime to skyrocket.

The new budget preserves that authorized strength at 13,631. That apparently means a police academy churning out a conveyor belt of classes will continue to do the same well into the new year to keep pace with retirements.

Already, 161 Chicago Police officers have notified the city by an Oct. 1 deadline that they intend to take advantage of the city’s longstanding offer to extend premium health benefits to officers who call it quits at age 55.

But the 2019 spending plan once again sets aside $95 million for police overtime.

CPD has blown past its overtime budget for years and this year will be no different.

Already, the city has racked up $80 million in police overtime expenses — and the reporting of those costs run two months behind.

The overtime budget is certain to top the $100 million mark when costs roll in for canceling days off and putting officers on 12-hour shifts to bolster the force by up to 4,000 officers — enough to handle the adverse reaction that never came when Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second degree murder and sixteen counts of aggravated battery for the murder of Laquan McDonald.

The city is also adding $15 million to the corporate fund allotment for settlements and judgments, knowing full well that the higher, $61 million figure will not be enough to cover the entire expense.

The budget also includes question marks that go beyond the $1 billion spike in pension payments that await the next mayor and City Council.

The city has yet to hammer out contracts with police officers and firefighters — or even start negotiating in earnest–even though both contracts expired on June 30, 2017.

So Emanuel’s 2019 spending plan includes no money for retroactive or future pay raises.

The city will be under pressure to satisfy the salary demands of rank-and-file police officers to offset the city’s need to change how cops are disciplined.

Fields and Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown defended the longstanding practice of budgeting, only for contracts already finalized.

They also defended the idea of creating a “Public Safety Investment Fund” with $38 million left unspent in the 2017 budget.

But, all of that enlarges the dark cloud hanging over the next mayor of Chicago.

“Let us challenge those who sit in this historic chamber or stand at this rostrum in the future to remember the responsibility that comes with that torch,” Emanuel said Wednesday.

“If our leaders spend money we don’t have, they will steal the future our children could have had. If our leaders make phony promises instead of tough choices, it is countless kids in tough neighborhoods whose true promise they will scoop and toss. If our leaders run up debt, run down pensions and run dry the rainy day fund, it is the next generation whose chances will run out.”

Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) will preside over City Council hearings on the mayor’s final budget that begin at 9 a.m. Monday. She’s among those aldermen grateful for, what will only be a brief respite in the need to raise taxes and cut spending before the pension crisis must be confronted yet again.

“This is my eleventh budget and there were times that I thought I wanted to cry,” Austin said.

“Even though this budget isn’t as heavy, it’s still heavy because there’s gonna be more to come in years to come for us because we’re gonna still be faced with pensions.”