More fees, job cuts, police and fire consolidation in Chicago’s 2012 budget

by Alma Bahman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 budget will fill the city’s $636 million deficit by cutting costs, increasing various fees and debt refinancing.

The restructuring of Chicago’s public safety departments will save $82 million. Chicago will be the first city to combine its police and fire department headquarters into one, Emanuel said. Each department’s five bureaus will be unified into three. This way, the departments can merge similar units like bomb squads and anti-terrorism units.

Three district offices — Wood, Belmont and Prairie — will close. Emanuel said he also will eliminate “ghost officers.” These are budgeted positions that are left vacant and the money is spent on other things. He said he will use the moneyto hire actual incoming cadets.

The mayor also permanently cut of 510 senior and mid-level management jobs to save $34 million.

“That’s 80 percent of the cost: Personnel, salaries and benefits,” Donald Haider, professor of management and strategy, and social enterprise at Northwestern University.

The budget includes 517 layoffs and elimination of 2,000 vacant positions.

“We are resetting our expectation of what government can do and what government can afford,” Haider said.

In what he called “the largest infrastructure project initiated by the city,” Emanuel intends to rehab Chicago’s century-old water system with a fee hike that will mean an extra $120 per year for the average household in 2012. Additional increases will come in the subsequent three years.

Emanuel said this increase won’t cut the deficit, but it’s an investment in the city. The $147 million will go to repair hundreds of miles of water piping and sewer lines in the next decade, and create 18,000 new jobs.

Emanuel reiterated he plans to collect the $3 million city workers owe in unpaid parking tickets. He also proposed a $2 per weekday congestion premium for parking garages and lots downtown to generate $28 million. Another $14.8 million comes from owners of heavy vehicles who will pay $135, up from $120, for their city stickers.

Emanuel also said he will crack down on “those who put our communities at risk” by doubling fines for drunken driving and carrying illegal firearms in a car. Fines for carrying near schools or parks will triple. Owners of vacant lots with high criminal activity will be responsible for cleaning it up.

Other savings include: