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City Council Approves Mayor Emanuel's First Budget

UPDATED 11/16/11 5:39 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago City Council has voted unanimously to adopt Mayor Rahm Emanuel's first budget, which both he and many aldermen said represented a compromise on a number of tough issues in its final form.

The council approved the budget early Wednesday afternoon.

As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the only thing missing from the unanimous praise from the City Council was a group hug. Even aldermen who were leaders of the unofficial "Stop Rahm" movement during the campaign were effusive in their praise for the mayor and his budget.

"Let us give this mayor a vote of confidence as he leads this city," Ald. Edward Burke (14th) said.

"We are on the right track for the first time in many, many years," Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

The only dissent came from the glassed-in gallery where demonstrators protesting mental health clinic closings, created a bit of a ruckus by banging on the glass before being escorted out.

That left the show of support, which crossed all racial and ethnic lines, to continue.

Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) said, "This really does mark a new day for the city of Chicago."

The mayor's $6.2 billion spending plan relies on $120 per year increases in the average homeowner's water and sewer bills, $10 to 15 dollar hikes in car and SUV sticker fees, and $480 per year congestion charges for those who park monthly in downtown garages and lots.

"It's a fair price for stickers [and] a reasonable fee for city water and waste," said Ald. Pat Dowell

The biggest increases will be in fines for anything from sticker violations to not cutting your grass.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) said, "Most of these fines are avoidable."

In the end, finance chairman Burke called it

Emanuel denied that the council's vote was just a rubber stamp from the City Council, much as unanimous budget votes under former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his father, Mayor Richard J. Daley were considered to be.

"It was a process. You covered it," Emanuel told reporters. "I don't think it was a rubber stamp. Nor was it 'Council Wars,'" Emanuel said, referring to the heated battles between the late Mayor Harold Washington and a majority of aldermen led by Burke and Ed Vrdolyak in the 1980s. "I told you when I ran for office, I was gonna try to form a new partnership for the benefit of the city."

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), who chairs the City Council Budget Committee, said, "I think that in every aspect that we spoke in regards to our disagreement in this budget, he took a step back and said, 'Well, let me take a look at how do you wanna get down the road.'"


Among the more controversial aspects of the budget are hike in downtown parking fees, hundreds of layoffs, and changes in the way the city collects garbage.

But Mayor Emanuel says he has also cooperated with aldermen on other provisions.

"We've made changes, as you know, on the rebate for condos as it relates to refuse collection. We made changes on the libraries; I think better managing of time with a very important and precious resource. It's also true on how we deliver to nonprofits," he said.

Nonprofits will have to pay water and sewer fees for the first time, although smaller nonprofits will have those fees phased in.

Some aldermen have complained about features of Mayor Emanuel's 2012 budget, including a $2 congestion fee for parking in lots and garages. While the mayor says the goal is to reduce the number of rush hour motorists downtown, some aldermen argue that the tax would also hit motorists parking in lots and garages elsewhere in the city, and doesn't say it is limited to any particular time of day.

Aldermen also complained about the cuts Emanuel proposed to the library system, but to soften the blow of those cuts, Emanuel agreed to raise city sticker fees for all vehicles by $10 or $15 a year. Cars would pay $85, while larger vehicles would pay $135. He also dropped a proposal to lower the threshold for larger vehicle sticker fees from 4,500 pounds to 4,000 pounds.

Fees will also rise for missing the deadline to buy a city sticker, or refusing to do so.

Originally, Emanuel wanted to impose a steep increase on city stickers for larger vehicles only, in addition to lowering the threshold for what qualifies as a larger vehicle.

Some staff positions and library hours that had been slated for cuts will now be saved under the plan. Hours would only be cut on Mondays and Fridays when students are in school.

The budget plan also calls for closing three police stations – the Wood (13th), Belmont (19th) and Prairie (21st) districts, and combining some duplicative functions of the Police and Fire departments.

Water rates will be doubled in an effort to fund overdue infrastructure upgrades, and the ward-based garbage collection system now in effect will be replaced with a grid-based system.

The budget also raises numerous fines. A ticket for an expired meter will rise from $50 to $60, and blasting the car radio too loud will result in a $750 ticket rather than $500. Fines for illegal possession of spray paint will double to $1,500, and failing to cut high weeds could bring a fine of $1,200 per day.

The budget also slashes 510 middle or senior managers for a savings of $34 million, and cuts 776 vacant positions.

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