“No new taxes, fines and fees,” Emanuel said in a telephone interview with the Tribune. He also ruled out closing any tax loopholes or extending tax collections to additional services, with one exception: an increase in parking meter rates set in motion long before he took office.
Last year, the mayor promised no major tax increases, but his budget did increase the price of vehicle stickers, boost the hotel tax rate and launch a series of increases that will more than double city water and sewer fees over a four-year period. He also increased a host of fines and other fees.
Emanuel said there would be no increases like those in his next budget proposal, which he is set to deliver on Oct. 10. “No, there’s no kind of hidden game on that,” he said.
But the mayor declined to specify precisely how he would bridge the nearly $300 million gap. Aides said the budget would not rely on “one-time gimmicks” or result in reduced city services.
“There will be some combination of departments, there will be some innovations, some (managed) competition,” Emanuel said, referring to the program in which city and private-sector workers compete to deliver services. “So there’s a series of things — reforms, cuts, changes — that are going to allow us to bridge that gap and bridge that $298 million hole.”
He said the city also expects to save more money next year through continuing efforts to collect past-due city debts, completely converting garbage collection to the less-expensive grid system and moving other services to the grid system. The city also will continue to trim health care costs, Emanuel said, in part through a recently launched wellness program for city employees and by reducing fraudulent health claims.
This year, a slightly better economy has improved hotel, real estate transfer and sales tax collections, and those trends are expected to continue, easing the pressure next year, Emanuel said.
Although the mayor may be able to hold the line on city property taxes, the recently passed Chicago Public Schools budget will boost the average residential property tax bill by $28. It’s going to be tough to avoid similar increases in coming years, with annual $74 million increases built into the tentative new teachers contract.
Most city homes and businesses also will continue to see their water and sewer bills rise, with the extra revenue dedicated to updating the city’s aging water and sewer lines.
The mayor spoke to the Tribune hours after holding a second tightly-controlled round table discussion on the budget. By contrast, former Mayor Richard Daley would hold annual public budget forums, spending hours fielding sometimes eccentric ideas from Chicagoans on everything from cutting costs to ending basement flooding.
Emanuel met with one group Thursday at a meeting convened by the non-profit organization Metropolitan Family Services, whose CEO was on his transition team. The mayor was to meet with a group of Hispanic business owners late Friday to talk about the budget at a sit-down organized by City Council ally Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th.
“We will have about three or four more of those,” Emanuel said Friday before the second round table.
The mayor also has said he plans to eliminate the so-called head tax of $2 per month on employees at larger businesses, but not until Dec. 31, 2013.
Tribune reporter John Byrne contributed