EDISON PARK — Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) was the only Far Northwest Side alderman to vote against the largest tax increase in Chicago history — touted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the only way to fill the city's massive deficit and shore up pensions for police officers and firefighters.
Although Ald. John Arena (45th) and Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) helped found the Chicago City Council's Progressive Caucus, which urged Emanuel to reduce the $589 million property tax hike by raising a host of other taxes and fees, both voted in favor of the budget.
Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), a close ally of Emanuel, said she voted for the budget after meeting with renters, homeowners and small business owners and deciding the city must meet its pension obligations.
Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) consults with Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a City Council meeting. [DNAinfo/Ted Cox]
Arena and Sposato said they had no other option but to raise property taxes to foot the $550 million bill for police and fire pensions that will come due in 2016.
Sposato said a no vote would have left Chicago with a bill that "would end up costing the taxpayers of Chicago far more in the end."
The budget "was the most difficult issue I have faced as alderman," said Sposato, first elected in 2011 to represent the 36th Ward and in February as 38th Ward alderman.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) introduces Mayor Rahm Emanuel at one of three budget hearings. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
Laurino agreed, saying she had been stopped "on the street and in stores by taxpayers already overburdened with bills."
"Making the right decision is often the toughest decision," Laurino said before casting her vote Wednesday.
Ald. John Arena (45th) voted for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's budget, even though he — and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) — are frequent critics of the mayor. Waguespack voted no. [DNAinfo/Ted Cox]
Arena, who voted against the previous three budgets proposed by Emanuel, said he had watched for decades as Chicago "fooled itself" by demanding services but declining to pay the bill.
"Our elected officials found a way to pay for everything while hiding the cost," Arena said.
Even as the city has cut its workforce by 14 percent during the last decade, there is no way to cover the city's police and fire pension obligations through cuts, Arena said.
"I voted for the budget package because, as painful as it is, we have to pay the bill, and there is no other viable alternative," Arena said.
Arena said he would continue to fight for "progressive" ways to generate revenue, "a more efficient and accountable city government, and a more just city for all Chicagoans."
Sposato said he was unsuccessful in attempting to remove or reduce the garbage fee from the budget.
About 50 percent of those who have contacted Sposato or his office about the vote said they understood the need to raise taxes, even though none were happy about it, the alderman said.
"Nobody's jumping for joy, but it had to be done," Sposato said.
Under Emanuel's plan, the total property tax bill on a home worth $250,000 would rise by approximately $342, to $4,504 a year. During the next four years, that tax bill would increase by more than $550.
Commercial buildings, which are taxed at a higher rate, would be hit even harder.
Napolitano said he voted no because Emanuel's plan "put too much of the burden" of paying off the city's debt "on the taxpayers and small businesses" of the 41st Ward. He was one of 14 aldermen to reject the $7.8 billion spending plan.
An "overwhelming amount" of residents of Norwood Park, Edison Park, O'Hare and Edgebrook opposed the budget, and Napolitano said his job was to represent them on the City Council.
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) was one of 14 aldermen to vote no on a property tax hike. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
The property tax hike includes $45 million to relieve overcrowding in schools where students study in hallways and closets, such as Ebinger Elementary, where Napolitano's children go to school.
The prospect of money for a new annex at Ebinger being included in the budget was "dangled in front of him" during a meeting between Emanuel, Napolitano and the Ebinger Elementary School Local School Council on Sept. 11, Napolitano said.
That was "a very tempting offer," Napolitano said. "Unfortunately I needed to vote for what's right for the entire ward, not just Ebinger or Edison Park."
Napolitano said Thursday he expects an annex to be built at Ebinger Elementary School in Edison Park within two years to relieve severe overcrowding, regardless of his vote on the budget. Napolitano's children attend Ebinger.
"I don't believe the mayor would hurt children" as part of an effort to extract political revenge, Napolitano said. "He knows Ebinger is a great school, and it needs an annex."
Napolitano, Sposato and Arena were part of a majority of aldermen who opposed Emanuel's plan to privatize the city's non-emergency 311 help line to save money. The mayor shelved that plan amid an outcry.
The mayor's proposal to privatize "the front door of your city government" was "absurd," Arena said, adding that he and his colleagues on the council "were able to identify roughly $5 million in untapped funds that could be used to bring 311 into the 21st century."
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