Gardiner, Napolitano, Sposato oppose budget while Nugent, Villegas support spending plan; tax hike, basic income draw objections from some of the local aldermen
by BRIAN NADIG
Far Northwest Side aldermen Nicholas Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and James Gardiner (45th) opposed the city’s $16.7 billion budget, while aldermen Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Samantha Nugent (39th) supported Mayor Lightfoot’s 2022 spending plan.
The City Council at its Oct. 27 meeting voted 35-15 to approve the budget, while the tax levy was approved 32-18, with Villegas, Napolitano and Gardiner voting against the levy. The levy triggers a $76.5 million tax hike, part of which is due to an automatic increase tied to the Consumer Price Index.
“This budget supports additional public safety resources in the 39th Ward, in both the 16th and 17th police districts, closed the $377 million gap in retroactive police pay and dedicates $1 million for officer wellness.
“Additionally, the budget includes a carve-out for a shared cost-flood control program in the 39th Ward. It also dedicates more funding for city services like tree trimming and garbage carts,” Nugent said.
The safety funds can be used for the installation of additional Police Observation Device cameras and more staffing for the existing Strategic Decision Support Center at the 17th District police station, 4650 N. Pulaski Road, and the soon-to-open center at the 16th District station, 5151 N. Milwaukee Ave., Nugent said. The centers are used to monitor POD cameras and to provide real-time data on crime patterns to help commanders deploy their resources.
“I (also) supported the 2022 budget because it offers a roadmap on how we can rebound from the pandemic, meet pension obligations and expand social services that complement existing city services,” Nugent said.
Napolitano said that one of the main reasons he voted against the budget was the inclusion of the new $32 million Universal Basic Income Program, which will pay 5,000 low-income families $500 a month to spend on needs of their choosing. “This is just one step toward a socialistic government,” Napolitano said.
Both Napolitano and Sposato said that they unsuccessfully sought changes in the program which would have set aside funds for households in each ward.
There is “no equity” in the program unless the funds are spread out throughout the city, Sposato said, adding that program participants should be required to perform a minimum number of community service hours.
Napolitano said that it also is difficult to support a basic income program at the same time the city is implementing tax hikes, including “major tax increases on homeowners in 2016 and 2020.”
Villegas, a basic income advocate, opposed the tax levy because “working families are struggling enough as it is. He wanted to see more effort to find other resources of revenue,” a 36th Ward aldermanic aide said.
“Villegas had proposed cost-saving ideas through the utilization of technology solutions, but the mayor’s budget office chose to sock it to the citizens of Chicago,” the aide said. Villegas is Lightfoot’s former floor leader in the City Council.
Sposato said that he opposed the budget but supported the tax levy because he feels linking tax increases to the rate of inflation through the CPI will lead to smaller, incremental property tax increases instead of “big”jumps which can place a larger burden on homeowners.
Last year the city adopted a plan which includes an automatic property tax increase based on the rate of inflation, tied to the CPI, in a effort to give homeowners more predictability. The Chicago Tribune reported that city based the 2022 increase on the national CPI instead of using the lower figure for Chicago.
Alderman James Gardiner (45th) cited the tax increase as the reason he voted against the budget and levy. The owners of existing homes valued at $250,000 are expected to pay an additional $37 in property taxes under the city’s plan.
Gardiner said that high taxes are a top concern he hears from residents when knocking on doors. “I’ve stayed true to my word to the people of our community,” Gardiner said of his tax hike opposition.
A tax increase is “basically a certainty each year” under the CPI plan, Gardiner said.
The council also approved a budget amendment calling for the city to use federal funds to repay bank loans.
“I am beyond excited to announce the passage of the most progressive and forward-looking budget in our city’s history,” Lightfoot said in a statement.
“As we move away from the pandemic, we must use this opportunity and once-in-a-lifetime (federal) funding to address the economic and emotional pain it has wreaked on our communities. This budget, complete with a historic number of investments and policy prescriptions, will meet this moment and help us fulfill our responsibility to uplifting and empowering our residents.”
In other City Council news, the council will hold a special meeting on Friday, Oct. 29, to discuss the vaccine mandate for city workers. A repeal of the mandate is not expected.
Napolitano said that he is not against the vaccine and that he will help workers who want the COVID-19 vaccine get one but that he opposes the city’s efforts to require it. He added that officers were required to work 12-hour shifts last summer and “a lot of them got COVID” but that the city seems to have forgotten the courage those officers showed.
Napolitano said that he fears police, firefighter and paramedic shortages will have grave consequences for Chicago residents and that his father who was a 34-year “proud, proud” police veteran warned him shortly before his death earlier this year that the city is in the worst condition he had ever seen.
Napolitano, Sposato, Villegas, Gardiner and Nugent have voiced support for repealing or revising the mayor’s vaccine mandate or for a special meeting on the matter. A previous proposal that was not approved called for the repeal of the mandate and for any future vaccine mandate to be approved by the City Council.
Napolitano said that any vaccine or testing policy should be part of a labor agreement with the unions.