Reporting Nancy Harty
CHICAGO (CBS) – The City Council’s Budget Committee held its first hearing Tuesday on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $8.3 billion budget plan for next year.
WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports one of the first questions aldermen had for the mayor’s budget staff was about the city’s ballooning pension obligations.
Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott said costs for police officers and firefighters alone would skyrocket in 2016, unless there’s a change in state law.
“It’s a very dire situation. That increase is equivalent to effectively what we receive in property taxes in total,” she said.
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Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said the mayor’s $8.3 billion spending plan is one of the best budgets he’s seen in years, but he wants the much-discussed blue cart recycling program expanded faster to the whole city.
Budget Director Alex Holt said the program is on pace to reach the whole city by the end of 2013.
“How are we going to roll them out?” Beale said. “There’s no way we can expedite that?”
Holt also said changes in recycling pickup have cut costs by $4 million, after private vendors were brought in to compete with Streets and Sanitation crews.
“Private vendors came in with about a bid of $2.70 per cart. Our city employees, when we started the process, were about $4.70 a cart. Our city employees have come down to $3.20 a cart,” Holt said.
As a result, the city is looking to extend competitive bidding and reverse auctions to other departments for more savings.
Alderman also heard the city will allocate $3 million dollars more for tree trimming, to handle a backlog of 20,000 requests.
Holt also told aldermen the Police Department plans to bring in 457 new police recruits by the end of the year.
She also expected additional savings to come from a health wellness plan for city employees, and assigning other jobs to workers on disability. For example, five Streets and Sanitation workers baited alleys for rats this summer as they recuperated.
Meantime, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he wants to make sure a new Small Business Office won’t add much to the city’s bottom line, with the city already facing a $300 million deficit.
“I just want to understand we are not proposing to create yet another bureaucratic function within the city of Chicago,” Reilly said.