The First Taste Of Budget-Cutting 101


We can’t believe we’re saying this, but here goes: We agree with Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward) that City Mgr. Jim Hock has not done enough to cut City expenses. 

There…we did it.  Whew! 

We suspect that Bach, like the proverbial stopped clock, is right on something no more than twice a day.  But this just happens to be one of those instances, because it is simply unacceptable for the City Mgr. to propose a budget with a $1.8 million deficit [pdf] of expenses over revenues, especially on the heels of several additional years of budget deficits that have shrunk the City’s reserves to an uncomfortably low level.

That’s where our agreement with Bach stops, however.  Because not only did he and his City Council allies adopt Hock’s deficit budget, but they have irresponsibly added to that deficit by approving increased spending since that budget’s adoption.  And now Bach and his spendthrift wing-man, Ald. Frank “The Politician” Wsol (7th Ward), want to add another $400,000+ in spending on their totally wrongheaded flood control rebate program.

So when Bach proclaims – as he did at Monday night’s City Council meeting – that “I would like to see us with no red ink on the books in two years, and I think that’s possible, but only with quick, decisive action regarding staffing levels,” we have to wonder what he’s smoking…and whether the FDA has approved it for over-the-counter sale without a prescription. 

Despite his big, blustery talk about staffing cuts, Bach doesn’t appear even to have attempted any of the heavy lifting that goes into figuring out exactly who should be cut to reduce the size of the current budget hole City government has dug for us.  Nor have we heard him publicly endorse the first cuts that have been made to City staff: the recent termination of four employees of the Public Works Department.  

Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim is reporting that those cuts will result in the elimination of the City’s curbside brush pick-up.  It will also eliminate one of the city’s two street sweepers, thereby cutting in half the number of rounds the sweeper makes across the city each year.  And Zingsheim warns that these cuts also will adversely affect snow removal this winter. 

Hey, Ald. Bach…are you happy with those cuts, both in staff and in services?  And can you tell us what the next staffing cuts should be? 

Not surprisingly, Frankie the Politician also threw his two faces…um, we mean, his two cents… into this debate, claiming that while he doesn’t “like the idea of adopting” these cuts, he does “like the idea of us pushing staff and the city manager to justify every full-time employee we have or present us with real reductions that make sense.”   

That’s a real hoot, coming from a guy that wants to blow $400,000+ on flood control rebates, led the vote against passing through to water users the $400,000+ in water rate increases from the City of Chicago, and would have saddled us with the debt service on $16,000,000+ of bonds for a new cop shop if he could have had his way.  But what else can we realistically expect from a “politician” like Frankie? 

Bach (and Wsol) can talk the budget-cut talk, but so far they haven’t measured up when it comes to walking the budget-cut walk.  And neither has the rest of the City Council. 

9 comments so far

Bach clearly has at least 2 personalities. Mr. Spend and Mr. Cut. As you clearly point out, he voted for the current deficit spending at the same time he wanted to add about $1.8 million per year for the new police station, give away money to homeowners for flooding, etc. Do not forget that because the citizens trounced the Wsol and Bach new police station (Frimark too, but thank goodness he has left the scene of the accident), the city will retire the bond for the Public Works building this year and save the taxpayers about $1.6 million a year.
I must say that for the first time I agree with Bach’s comments that the City needs to cut employees. However, where was he when he approved the current budget? Obviously it is nearly too late for this fiscal year, but they need to begin the process for next year and beyond. I hate to be negative, but I just don’t see the areas of tax revenues that are running short this year will get back to what they were last year or the year before. The City needs to plan now for decreased revenue which means only one thing to those in charge–CUT SPENDING NOW. It is first grade arithmetic. From this point forward there should not be a budget passed that includes deficit spending! Mr. Hock and the City Council need to go back to the drawing boards.
I can only hope someone runs against Bach, Wsol and Allegretti so we have a choice. I will support and help anyone who runs against that trio, plus a few more that sit at the big table on Mondays.

Maybe personnel cuts are needed, but cutting 2-3 jobs (and the services that those jobs provide) so that the City can give $270,000 to private community groups is bad government. So is cutting jobs rather than passing through increased water costs to water users.

And don’t even get me started about the ridiculous facade improvement giveaway, which may be the most wasteful program the City has. I’d rather have brush pickup and an extra street sweeping than give money to derelict landlords any day.

I’m glad we’re getting rid of brush pick-up, other than after storms. If you want to cut down one of your trees or your bushes, it should be up to you to either put the results into lawn bags/bins or hire somebody to take that stuff away.

As for street sweeping, maybe that’s also something we can do without. Let’s see how it plays out.

anon 2:56:

Going without either of those services will not be an issue for me.

It is somewhat ironic that we are talking about service cut backs as we are headed into the one time of year I experience some mild frustration with Public Works Service. Ya see I cut my own grass, somewhat rare in my neighborhood. I also have seven of those wonderful old PR trees on my property. It is amazing how many refuse bags one can fill with leaves – my one week record thus far is 59. Meanwhile, my firends in other burbs (Des Plaines for example) simply blow their leaves to the curb and the city sucks them up. As I said, it is mild frustration and if this is my only problem I have nothing to complain about.

Didn’t city council approve the purchase of a new three-axle snowplow and other trucks at the end of 2008 for about $400,000 and now staff cuts “will adversely affect snow removal this winter”?

Trucks don’t drive themselves.

Bach is right…there are likely strong opportunities to cut staff within the city’s payroll. CC should direct Hock to find $1M in staffing cuts and let him figure it out with his direct reports. Let Hock do his job as directed – that’s how it’s supposed to work. The city’s expenses also are ripe for review. What they pay for 3rd party services appears unchecked. The recent cuts by Public works are unfortunate and may not have been the best place to start. It also was interesting how Wayne appears to be disgruntled and trying to stick it to the public. I have a problem with Wayne reducing services and threatening the residents with the tried and true snow removal problem political tool. It also sounds like Wayne is also going around bad mouthing his situation to the residents. I’m sorry you don’t like the economic conditions…but most of us in the private sector are also suffering and doing more with less at our jobs – but we don’t share our emotions with our customers. Cut some overhead admin staff in the office to the right when you walk in the front door. How many people to we need staffing the office where we pay for things like dog licenses. Reduce the number of duplicate roles with assistant manager/manager type leadership. Sell the Courtland property. Sell the “Comed” property. Sell some cars. Send out the third party services (copiers, office supplies) for competetive bid. Cut way back on NFP donations next year. Sell ad space on those fancy display signs popping up in Uptown like across the street from the library. At least post the city’s meeting schedules/annoucements/spokesman on them. I suspect you can come up with a couple million in cuts and not significantly impact the city services that residents will notice. While you’re at it…do some house cleaning in P&Z and start over with an element of customer service and sanity. Hock I think you made a bad choice there with promotions…and replace the infamous “Chuck the electrical inspector”. Then get started and finding the $10’s of millions to fix the flooding. Stop using the argument we don’t have money to give subsidies….no matter how we fix flooding, the money won’t come from the current revenue stream. That can only come from a bond or asking for handouts from other government agencies. Otherwise it will never happen in our lifetimes.

Fandango’s Papa:

You already have come up with more concrete suggestions than Hock or Bach. Well done!

But for every personnel cut there should be an explanation of exactly how much we’re going to save and what (and how) services will be affected. I still have no idea exactly how much money the City is saving by cutting those four public service employees.

I also don’t see how the City (Ald. Wsol?) justifies NOT passing through the entire increase in cost of water by the City of Chicago – that’s a no brainer, except for those with no brains, I guess.

NFP contributions should be eliminated, not just cut back. And so should the facade improvement program, which somebody else mentioned.

It’s time to get serious about this stuff.

no more new appropriations, projects or programs until the budget hole is filled and reserves are restored: no more money for private flood control, facade improvement, community groups, taste inc, etc.

is there any plan in place to stop the bleeding from the tif? that seems to be a major drain on the city treasury.

and somebody has to wake up and pass through all extra costs (like water) to the users, because we can’t afford to keep spending without taxing.

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


(optional and not displayed)