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Minimum Wage Hike, Changes To Water Bills, Higher Parking Meter Fees; What Else Is In The 2020 City Budget?

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For Chicago taxpayers, the highlight of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's 2020 budget plan undoubtedly was that she doesn't plan a major property tax increase to eliminate an $838 million budget deficit -- at least, if state lawmakers give her the help she needs -- but the $11.65 billion spending plan contains a lot more that will affect the lives of the average Chicagoan.

From increased parking meter fees downtown to higher congestion taxes on rideshare services to a modest property tax increase to pay for opening libraries on Sundays, here are just some of the ways the mayor's budget would impact Chicago residents.

MINIMUM WAGE HIKE: Lightfoot said she will push to increase the minimum wage in Chicago to $15 per hour by 2021, four years earlier than it would reach that rate otherwise under state law.

"Our working families can't wait until 2025 to earn enough to live on," Lightfoot said.

The current minimum wage in Chicago is $13 per hour.

CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARIES: While she's not seeking a major property tax hike to cut the deficit, the mayor is proposing an $18 million increase in the Chicago Public Library's property tax levy to allow all branch libraries to open seven days a week. Currently, branch libraries are closed on Sundays.

PARKING METER FEES: The mayor is proposing a 50-cent increase in the rates for metered street parking downtown and in the Central Business District. Under the mayor's plan, the cost of parking at a meter downtown (an area bounded by Lake Michigan on the east, the Chicago River on the north and west, and Ida B. Wells Drive on the south) would rise from $6.50 to $7 per hour. In the rest of the Central Business District (North Avenue to Roosevelt Road and Halsted to the lake) rates would rise from $4 to $4.50 per hour.

NEW PARKING METERS IN THE WEST LOOP: The city also would install add an unspecified number of metered parking spaces in the West Loop, from Halsted to Ashland and Van Buren to Grand, mainly on blocks with retail businesses. The rates at those meters would be the same as the Central Business District, costing $4.50 per hour. The mayor's office said adding meters in the West Loop will make it easier for shoppers to find parking, and avoid circling to find a spot.

RIDESHARE TAXES: Lightfoot has proposed increasing the tax on rideshare services to cut down on traffic congestion downtown, by significantly increasing the fees for rides downtown. A rideshare trip that starts or ends downtown would rise from 72 cents to $3. The taxes on a shared ride downtown would rise from 72 cents per trip to $1.25 per trip.

The increased downtown fees would apply between 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when traffic is worst. The rest of the time, trips downtown would have the same fees as the rest of the city.

For the purposes of the congestion tax, the boundaries of downtown would be North Avenue from Lake Shore Drive to the north branch of the Chicago River, the north branch of the Chicago River from North Avenue to Grand Avenue, Grand Avenue from the north branch of the river to Ashland Avenue, Ashland from Grand to Van Buren Street, Van Buren from Ashland to Desplaines Street, Desplaines from Van Buren to Roosevelt Road, and Roosevelt from Desplaines to Lake Shore Drive.

Downtown Zone For Congestion Tax
This is the area of Chicago that would be subject to an extra downtown congestion tax for ride-share trips under a plan from Mayor Lori Lightfoot. (Credit: City of Chicago)

Solo rides that neither start nor end downtown would rise from 72 cents per trip to $1.25.

Trips to and from O'Hare and Midway Airports, Navy Pier, or McCormick Place would continue to be assessed a flat $5 tax.

The only ride-share customers who would see their fees drop would be riders who share a trip that neither starts nor ends in the downtown area; those shared rides would be taxed 65 cents a trip, down from 72 cents.

WATER BILLS: The mayor is proposing to reduce the rate on water, sewer, and utility taxes for low-income homeowners from $106 to $66 every two months. The city also would halt late penalties and debt collection actions against low-income homeowners, and forgive debt for those who go one year without an accrued balance.

Lightfoot said the reduced rates will apply for homeowners with incomes at least 150% below the federal poverty level. Approximately 20,000 households would qualify.

In addition, the city will switch from a six-month billing cycle to monthly bills for non-metered homes, and from bi-monthly bills to monthly bills for metered homes. The mayor said the current six-month billing cycle for non-metered homes creates a hardship for residents faced with two large water bills a year, rather than smaller bills each month.

The city also would stop billing people whose water service has been shut off.

"The City should not continue to charge residents for water that is no longer being supplied," the mayor's office said in budget documents.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING FUNDS: The 2020 budget plan includes $10 million in new funding for affordable housing and homelessness prevention initiatives. The mayor's office said that includes $5 million in new local funding for the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, which provides financial assistance to landlords who rent to low-income tenants at designated affordable housing developments.

The mayor's office said the additional funding to the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund would allow it to expand services to 520 more low-income households, for a total of 3,200.

The mayor said an additional $5 million in new funding would go to the Flexible Housing Pool, a public-private partnership designed to streamline housing and other services for homeless adults.

DOWNTOWN RESTAURANT TAX: The mayor has proposed increasing the tax on food and drinks sold at downtown restaurants from 0.25% to 0.5%. Lightfoot said that's in line with the restaurant tax in neighboring suburbs. When added to the 10.25% sales tax and 1% food and beverage tax at downtown and airport restaurants for McPier, the total tax on the tab at a downtown restaurant would come to 11.75%.

DEPARTMENT MERGERS: Administrative functions at the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, and Office of Emergency Management and Communications would be merged at Chicago Public Safety Headquarters in Bronzeville. The mayor's office said the move will allow the city to move 151 police officers and 11 uniformed CFD personnel from headquarters to the streets, and save $2.1 million in administrative costs.

CPD also will reopen two detective areas that were closed in 2012, in a move to cut down on overtime by reducing travel times for detectives, allowing them to spend more time investigating. According to the mayor's office, public safety overtime costs have swelled to $200 million this year.

The city also would merge the Department of Innovation and Technology and the Department of Fleet and Facility Management to save about $1 million.

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