Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has come out against two key parts of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's budget proposal — a property tax increase and layoffs of city workers — in favor of saving money by looking over the city's contracts with outside companies.
Hairston pointed to her two decades on City Council and said she has read over thousands of pages of data on this year's expenditures and next year's proposals and projections.
"I have never attended a budget hearing without first reading all of the budget books that the city provides in order to give my seasoned opinions and suggestions about how next year's funds should be spent. So you're in good hands," she said during her ward meeting Tuesday night. "I'm sure you all know that the city has a $1.2 billion shortfall with an $820 million gap in 2020 alone.
"Although this administration already inherited a significant budget problem, the COVID pandemic has had a devastating impact on our economy. Tax revenue that we were accustomed to receiving has dropped drastically. The city has lost nearly 40% of its revenue from parking, transportation, motor vehicle and hotel taxes. Our sales tax revenue is down nearly 35%. We've been trying to find ways to close that gap without finding ways to raise property taxes.
"According to the mayor, that increase was unavoidable. Last week, the mayor announced a property tax increase of $93.9 million. To give a better perspective, the mayor gave an example that if your house is valued at $250,000, your property tax bill will increase by $56 a year," Hairston said. "For some, that may still be a lot of money."
"I don't think now is the time to add more taxes," she continued. "I would like to find a way to give people a break, because it's $56 this year, then it'll double next year, and it'll keep going up. And that doesn't include the other taxes that will keep going up over the years. So I need to get a complete picture of what that looks like."
Hairston said she has been working with other aldermen to try to find a way for the city to alleviate, reduce or eliminate the property tax hike. She also noted the mayor's plan to not fill existing vacancies on the municipal payroll and audit and eliminate city contracts that have not recently been negotiated.
"The mayor said everything's on the table; everything's on the table," Hairston said. "The question is are we still getting the biggest bang for our buck? And before we come to the people to ask them to dig into their pockets to ask them more, I think we have a responsibility to our constituents to see where we can get more out of what's already in the budget."
Mayor Lori Lightfoot's budget proposal also calls for hundreds of layoffs, though they would be delayed until March in hopes for additional federal stimulus to eliminate the need for them. Hairston came out against them as well.
"I have suggested to the Budget Department that, since they want to institute unpaid furlough days for non-union employees, and that number that they're looking at now is five, that they need to be looking at a threshold income," she said. "Because surely people who are making over $100,000 can afford to absorb five days of furlough as opposed to someone making $40,000 a year."
Hairston said the budgetary effects of the pandemic would be felt two to three years out, adding later that some municipal officers are "overly staffed by middle and upper management" and that there "are some inefficiencies that we can find there."
When asked about the mayor's proposal to send out fines for motorists going six mph over the speed limit, Hairston recounted her opposition to red-light cameras and said, "I don't know how this helps, so as of now, I don't support that."
Updates on Halloween, election
"Hyde Park most especially has been inundated with young people on Halloween, and while the majority of young people are having innocent fun, there are some who quite frankly are only participating to wreak havoc on the community," Hairston said. "People have been attacked, cars and buildings have been damaged and set on fire for sport."
She noted the pandemic-related decisions not to have organized activities along 53rd Street and to forego trick-or-treating and said the Chicago and University of Chicago police departments "are still working together to create a response plan to maintain safety should that be necessary.
The city — "in a strange twist," she said — is observing "Halloweek": mandating masks and a light or sign to indicate that candy is being distributed from a social distance, encouraging trick-or-treating without congregating in groups of six or fewer, and forbidding haunted houses and house parties.
Hairston said she has voted by mail and received confirmation that her ballot has been received. She noted that the Board of Elections changed the polling place for the ward from the Jackson Park fieldhouse to Ray School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., because Chicago Park District properties are closed.
"I cannot express how important it is to cast your vote, regardless of what method you use or choose. Please, please vote," she said, later noting that 5,405 5th Ward residents have early voted and 11,293 have voted by mail, a total of 16,698. In 2016, 26,988 5th Ward residents voted in the general election.
She urged people to contact her office at 773-324-5555 if they need a ride to the polls.