Austin resident Mecca Thompson has a clear message for her alderman about next week’s vote on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed property tax increase: No, no, no.
Thompson and nearly 100 residents attended Ald. Chris Taliaferro’s budget town hall meeting Tuesday, Oct. 20, one of a few he’s holding this month to hear from the community. Along with the property tax issue, residents had other concerns about the mayor’s $8 billion budget, as well as other complaints about the city.
Thompson said she was recently ticketed in front of her Austin home by one of the city’s red light cameras. She said she’s been ticketed many times.
“They’re treating us like criminals,” said Thompson, who lives two blocks from Columbus Park in the 29th Ward.
Thompson said the red light cams is nothing more than a quota system, racking up tickets from people driving in mostly poor communities.
About 60 people attended Tuesday’s meeting at Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 w. Jackson.
The City Council is expected to vote Oct. 28 on the 2016 budget, which includes a tax increase projected to bring in $540 million over the next four years.
Many attending Tuesday’s meeting told Taliaferro to vote against it.
Resident Cora Montgomery said the city is trying to “balance the budget on the backs of poor people.”
“Another tax will really hurt people really bad. What does he have in the budget for economic development? What do we have to put people back to work? That’s what we need,” Montgomery said.
Resident and property owner C.B. Johnson said he doesn’t mind paying higher taxes if he’s getting something in return, like better city services.
Johnson, who has run for 29th Ward alderman in previous elections, said he has properties in Austin and Oak Park. The taxes he pays on his property in the 2800 block of West Van Buren would increase from $16,000 to $19,000, Johnson said, if Emanuel’s proposal goes through.
Taliaferro said he favors some things in the budget, like the additional spending on youth programs, including summer jobs.
But the first-term alderman said he also has problems with the budget. Taliaferro said he’s opposed to spending more money on overtime for police without hiring additional officers.
Emanuel has said cuts will have to occur if the property tax increase isn’t approved. The police and fire department staff, for instance, will be cut by about 25 percent each, according to the mayor.
But some residents called that a scare tactic.
Taliaferro also has problems with the mayor’s plans to rotate officers currently on desk duty back onto the streets. The alderman called that “smoke and mirrors.” Taliaferro, a former Chicago police officer, said in the past officers were rotated on the street while others were rotated off.
Many residents also said they don’t like the mayor’s proposed $10-a-month garbage pickup fee.
Other residents also had problems with the mayor’s initial plan to out-source 311 call center operations. Emanuel pulled that off the table Wednesday. Taliaferro said he opposes outsourcing any city asset that helps people, including 311.
Some homeowners Tuesday said they didn’t understand how Cook County assesses property values, which is typically higher than the actual value of their homes.
One resident said his home is worth just under $20,000 but was assessed by the county for more than $100,000. Other residents also had problems with the red light cameras. One person said she drives all around the city and that the camera lights go off quicker in poor neighborhoods.
A representative from the mayor’s office, Grace Akinlemibola, an assistant to Emanuel, attended the meeting at the alderman’s invitation. She said the mayor has called for cuts from every department.
Concerning property assessments, Akinlemibola said this year’s assessment should be more closer to actual home values than in year’s past. She and Taliaferro noted that the county does the assessments, but Taliaferro said he doesn’t know how the county arrives at those assessments.
After the meeting, Taliaferro said he has decided yet on how he’ll vote next week but added his constituents have made their voices heard – and that’s what he wanted.
He stressed his vote on the budget and tax increase will be based on what his constituency wants.
“My vote will be their voice,” he said.
Thompson continued making her voice heard after the meeting about the budget.
“I want him,” she said, “to vote against this tax increase, yes.”