CHICAGO (CBS) — Already facing a $700 million projected budget shortfall this year alone, Mayor Lori Lightfoot next week will offer the first glimpse of how big of a financial hole Chicago is facing in 2021, with the pandemic still cutting into tax revenues.
Budget Director Susie Park, Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett, and City Council Budget Committee Chair Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) will kick off “Budget Week” on the evening of Aug. 31, with the “State of the Budget,” the first in a week-long series of virtual town hall meetings to be live-streamed on Facebook.
From Sept. 1-4, Park will then host a series of town hall meetings with city department heads to discuss individual agency priorities and city finances.
“This year’s budget will be exceptionally challenging due to the impacts of COVID-19 which is why we are expanding engagement opportunities for the public to ensure even more voices are heard,” Park said in a statement.
The meetings will be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. each day next week.
Monday, Aug. 31:
State of the Budget with Susie Park, Budget Director; Jennie Huang Bennett, Chief Financial Officer; and Alderman Pat Dowell, Chairman of the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations
Tuesday, Sept. 1:
Public Safety with Susan Lee, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety
Wednesday, Sept. 2:
Human Services with Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler, Department of Family and Support Services; Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, Department of Public Health; and Commissioner Rachel Arfa, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities
Thursday, Sept. 3:
Infrastructure with Commissioner Randy Conner, Department of Water Management; Commissioner John Tully, Department of Streets and Sanitation; and Commissioner Gia Biagi, Department of Transportation
Friday, Sept. 4:
Neighborhood and Economic Development with Commissioner Maurice Cox, Department of Planning and Development; Commissioner Marisa Novara, Department of Housing; and Commissioner Rosa Escareno, Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection
The mayor’s office also is launching an interactive website for residents to submit budget questions for each of the meetings, and to provide other feedback on the city’s finances for 2021. The city also will send out a multilingual survey seeking feedback about city government programs and services most important to taxpayers.
“I strongly believe that a budget is a moral document that reflects the values and priorities of our great city – values that include equity and inclusion and ensure that every resident from every ZIP code feels as though we are investing in their future,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “As we continue the work of building a financial plan that includes both solutions for today and the out-years, we want to ensure our decisions reflect the needs and values of residents, now more than ever before. I’m committed to ensuring the budgeting process is transparent and inclusive while we balance the reality of our financial constraints with the needs of families across the city.”
The mayor’s office said the city also is seeking so-called “Budget Ambassadors” to organize hour-long virtual or in-person focus groups of up to 10 people from Sept. 7-20 to gather feedback about residents’ needs from the city. You can sign up at www.chicago.gov/2021budget. City officials will provide training sessions to give Budget Ambassadors the information necessary to host focus groups and provide feedback to city officials.
In June, Lightfoot estimated the city was facing a $700 million budget deficit in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic on businesses and tax revenue.
To put the massive budget shortfall in perspective, it’s just short of the record $838 budget deficit Lightfoot faced when she took office last year. Last fall, the City Council passed the mayor’s plan to balance that budget without a significant property tax hike or layoffs by relying a mix of one-time revenue sources and smaller targeted tax increases.
Now the mayor is almost back to where she started, and that’s not even counting what the city will face for next year’s budget. It means Chicago and its residents need to prepare for a rough financial ride.
The city’s budget deficit could balloon to $1.2 billion by the time the City Council must prepare the 2021 spending plan.
The mayor has said all options, including a possible property tax hike and layoffs, must remain on the table to address the city’s massive budget shortfall.
Lightfoot has said the city saw a steep decline in tax revenue during the pandemic; particularly from hotel taxes, restaurant taxes, amusement taxes, and parking fees. Sales taxes and convention taxes also have taken major hits, with so many businesses closed for months, and trade shows forced to cancel expositions at McCormick Place due to the virus.
It’s unclear how city finances have rebounded since June, when the city moved into the latest stage of reopening, allowing more businesses to open their doors again.