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Angry NW Side Residents Politely Tell Rahm 'No' on Tax Hike at Budget Forum

By Heather Cherone | September 4, 2015 6:34am

Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens as angry residents speak at the third and final budget hearing. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

DUNNING — Mayor Rahm Emanuel got an earful Thursday on the Far Northwest Side from residents angry about a host of issues ranging from a looming massive property tax increase, cuts to special education programs, school overcrowding and jet noise caused by planes using new runways O'Hare Airport.

But unlike Wednesday, when Emanuel's security detail rushed him off the stage at the South Shore Cultural Center to avoid angry protesters, the meeting held in the gymnasium at Wright City College ran smoothly, with approximately 70 people using their one minute at the microphone to urge Emanuel to act on a host of issues.

Several called on the mayor to rethink his plan to hike property taxes by between $450 million and $550 million, implement a garbage collection tax designed to generate $100 million and raise a host of other fees that officials said are necessary to deal with the city's structural budget deficit more than a decade in the making.

Any tax increase will be both "progressive and fair" said City of Chicago Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown in a brief presentation at the beginning of the third and final budget hearing.

If the Chicago City Council approves the massive tax increase, the owner of a home worth $250,000 would see their bill jump by about $470, an 11 percent increase, officials said.

Despite the relatively calm audience, Emanuel addressed the capacity crowd only briefly to respond to specific questions, including one about trade classes at Dunbar High School and another about Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's deep cuts to child care subsidies, which the mayor has condemned.

Despite the official schedule calling for Emanuel to speak at the end of the hearing, the mayor left the stage immediately after the last resident spoke. Emanuel staffers escorted several speakers who pleaded for help during the meeting into a private conversation with the mayor, out of the sight of news media.

Arnold Julien, a resident of South Shore, told the mayor he was amazed at what he saw Thursday afternoon near Wright City College, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave., as he waited for the hearing to begin.

"I didn't see any boarded up houses," Julien said. "In my neighborhood, there are boarded up houses on every block. Why is that, Mr. Mayor?"

Others urged Emanuel to solve the city's budget crisis by cutting spending rather than raising taxes, with some warning such a large tax hike would spark an "exodus" of residents.

"The city doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem," said Edgebrook resident Roberta Vesperman, garnering loud applause.

If approved by the City Council, the tax hike would hit owners of commercial properties even harder than home owners, since those properties are taxed by the city at a higher rate.

The garbage fee Emanuel is considering proposing would cost homeowners $11 or $12 a month, according to reports.

Emanuel may also propose a $1-per-ride surcharge on ride-hailing services like Uber and a tax on e-cigarettes.

Both proposals were criticized at the budget hearing as being short-sighted.

The tax increases are needed to avert what city officials have called a "major crisis" created by the state Legislature's requirement that city to make a $550 million pension payment to police and fire pension systems by 2016, officials have said.

The first two hearings held on the West and South sides earlier this week were disrupted by protesters demanding that city officials reopen Dyett High School in Bronzeville.

Several members of the Chicago Teachers Union — wearing their trademark red shirts — and their supporters interrupted the meeting with a coordinated chant in support of the Dyett protests, but it failed to catch on, perhaps in part because of the terrible acoustics in the Wright gymnasium, and the meeting continued.

Twelve residents are in the third week of a hunger strike designed to force Emanuel to consider their plan to reopen the high school.

Hours before the budget hearing, Chicago Public Schools officials announced Dyett would reopen as open-enrollment, neighborhood arts school in September 2016.

But those participating in the hunger strike said the proposal was unacceptable and their protest would continue.

Chicago Teachers Union member Sarah Chambers presents a "warrant" for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's arrest. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

But the meeting was not without drama.

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher and Chicago Teachers Union leader, presented the mayor with a "warrant for his arrest" for slashing spending on special education services and teachers as students holding posters calling the mayor a racist flanked her.

Through the meeting, Emanuel perched on a chair, taking notes, laughing occasionally and grinning through the harshest criticisms leveled at his treatment of Chicago's poorest residents.

Several parents pleaded with Emanuel to restore cuts made to Beard Elementary School in Norwood Park and Vaughn High School in Portage Park, saying special needs students should be protected from the impact of the Chicago Public Schools' $1 billion budget deficit.

Other Northwest Side residents told Emanuel their quality of life had been diminished because of the hundreds of flights soaring over their home in areas that heard little to no jet noise before an east-west runway opened in October 2013.

Norwood Park resident Merry Marwig asks the mayor to do more to reduce jet noise. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

Norwood Park resident Merry Marwig said the noise — and Emanuel's lack of response to tens of thousands of complaints — was making her question whether to stay in the city.

"I can't sleep, I can't enjoy my yard," Marwig said. "I question why I would stay."

Members of the Dunning Neighborhood Organization asked Emanuel to move forward with plans to build a new high school near Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue to relieve severe overcrowding at Taft High School.

"Parents of Chicago school children have a tough decision to make," said Dunning resident Ed Bannon. "Help us stay in the city by building a new high school."

Emanuel is scheduled to present his proposed spending plan to the City Council on Sept. 22.

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