Town hall meetings scheduled on Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Massive shortfall expected after coronavirus impact

Crusader Staff Report

Several virtual town hall meetings are scheduled for the Mayor’s proposed Chicago 2021 budget, which is expected to include a massive deficit caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

On August 24, Lightfoot presented her budget address on Facebook Live. It will be followed by four virtual town hall meetings focusing on specific city departments. The sessions will be live-streamed on Facebook from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. September 1 through September 4, officials said.

The first town hall meeting will be on September 1. It will focus on the city’s public safety budget amid calls for officials to reduce spending for the Chicago Police Department. In 2020, the city planned to spend $1.7 billion on public safety. The second town hall meeting on Wednesday, September 2, will be on topics that include youth services, homelessness support services, services for people with disabilities, services to persons living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS, communicable diseases surveillance, mental health, lead poisoning prevention budgets and violence prevention. The next day, September 3, the town hall meeting will focus on transportation, lighting, street resurfacing, bridges, water projects, rodent control, tree trimming, garbage and recycling budgets.

On Thursday, September 4, the town hall meeting will focus on planning and development, housing, business licensing and small business support.

All four town hall meetings will begin at 6:00 p.m. and will be live-streamed on Facebook.com/ChicagoMayorsOffice.

In addition, city officials asked residents to sign up as budget ambassadors, who will be charged with organizing and facilitating one-hour virtual or in-person focus groups with no more than 10 community members from September 7 to September 20 “to gather feedback about the needs and values most important to residents.”

During the pandemic, Lightfoot insisted that Chicago was well prepared to weather the economic storm whipped up by COVID-19. However, after a stay-at-home order kept most businesses shut down for more than two months only to reopen and be hit with two waves of unrest, Lightfoot has warned the city’s finances are in a precarious position. That same month, in June, Lightfoot announced the pandemic had blown a $700-million hole in the city’s budget, the last time she gave a detailed update on the city’s finances.

Lightfoot has called a property tax hike and layoffs of city staff a “last resort” — but warned they may be unavoidable unless the federal government approves another round of relief for cities.

Although the Democratically-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved a package of additional aid for states and cities, its passage has been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump.

Budget Director Susie Park said this year’s budget will be “exceptionally challenging” because of the impacts of COVID-19.

The budget forecast, released by the city in August 2019, detailed a dire financial condition for 2021 — even before the pandemic hit and scrambled every aspect of the city’s operations.

That forecast predicted that if the economy slid into a recession, the city’s deficit could swell to $1.6 billion in 2021.

Most of that projected deficit was due to the soaring bill for the city’s pensions, which will reach $1.8 billion in 2021, up from $1.7 billion in 2020, according to city records.

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