Reporting Craig Dellimore
Updated 09/27/12 – 5:42 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago’s Inspector General is out with his latest list of options that could help the city reduce its nearly $300 million budget shortfall.
As WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson emphasizes that he has come up just with ideas, not suggestions.
“They’re absolutely not recommendations in the sense that we’re endorsing any one or more,” Ferguson said.
For example, he said the city could save more than $5 million by reducing the number of paid holidays for city workers.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
He also resurrected an old, controversial idea – reducing the minimum staffing on fire trucks from five firefighters to four. That move could save $71 million a year, according to Ferguson’s report.
“In many instances, the same level of safety and operational efficiency can be achieved with four on a rig,” Ferguson said.
But Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 President Tom Ryan said, even though there are fewer fires for the Fire Department to respond to, those blazes are often more dangerous than they used to be.
“Fires are burning hotter, they’re burning faster, and they’re quicker to collapse. So, if anything, that makes the argument there should be more firefighters, not less,” Ryan said.
CBS 2′s Brad Edwards reports the city is in negotiations with the Firefighters Union right now, but an earlier clause in their contract says staffing on trucks can’t be re-examined for another year or so.
“That’s an elephant in the room that has been publicly named, and everyone knows it’s there, and we’ve had it in prior reports, and it’s received a great deal of resistance from the Fire Department, and the fire unions,” Ferguson said.
Meantime, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hosted a roundtable discussion with local residents on Thursday to discuss the city’s budget.
“Before I make some final decisions, hear it from people directly about of the things they’re facing,” Emanuel said at the event in the Roseland neighborhood.
While cameras were allowed into the carefully scripted event, the mayor took no questions from the media.
But the budget plan that he must present to the City Council in two weeks is full of questions, like how to close a $300 million budget hole, and how to pay for up to $700 million more for pension costs.
“You’re still talking about $1 billion that we need to figure out how to get our way to,” Ferguson said.
The report also indicates imposing the city’s higher 9 percent amusement tax on all music and other entertainment events – including those staged by non-profit groups, or held in venues with capacity for less than 750 people – and taxing health club memberships could raise $105 million a year for the city.
Downtown health club member Frank Haynes said, “It would make me think twice .. if I would be able to afford it. Right now I’m kind of paycheck to paycheck,”
Fitness trainer Marcus Broadway said, “You’re talking about putting a tax on that? That’s not really encouraging people to work out and do something for their health.”
However, Ferguson pointed out city taxes don’t apply to health club memberships, even though they generate huge revenues.
While Emanuel has said he will not increase the city’s amusement tax to balance the budget, he has not ruled out eliminating loopholes like the exemption for health clubs and non-profits.
Though Ferguson is not pushing for any specific savings options outlined in his report, all the ideas have dollar values, and some require union agreement.
“Some of those include civilianizing the Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau, which would save about $1.5 million a year. The police side of the ledger – civilianizing positions in the various administrations of the Police Department – we estimate preliminarily that could save as much as $3.6 million a year,” Ferguson said.
All in all, the list of possible savings totals $1 billion, and the mayor might even embrace some of them.
CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall contributed to this report.