CITY HALL — Money left unclaimed by the city's tax rebate effort should be used to fight the violent crime spiraling out of control in Chicago neighborhoods, several aldermen said Wednesday morning, flanked by residents of the South and West sides who said they were under siege.
The approximately $17 million left over should be used to keep teens and young adults off the street and for violence prevention programs, said 15th Ward Ald. Ray Lopez, flanked by five of his colleagues.
"Violence is touching every Chicagoan," Lopez said. "This is not a final step, but a first step."
Although officials pushed back the deadline to apply for the program designed to ease the burden of last year's massive tax hike, few eligible Chicagoans applied in person to get money back.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed using approximately $6.1 million from the pot of left over money on a variety of programs, including $1.8 million to equip every police officer with a body camera by the end of 2017 — a move praised by the Department of Justice in its investigation into the Chicago Police Department.
In addition, the mayor has proposed using another $2 million to acquire and renovate vacant homes. Emanuel is expected to announce Wednesday afternoon that he wants to use another $1 million to offer cyber security training at City Colleges of Chicago as part of a joint effort with the Department of Defense.
"Those are good headlines that don't make an impact," Lopez said.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said there was nothing wrong with the mayor's proposals, but noted that the City Council will have the final say.
Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Emanuel, said the effort to renovate vacant homes will create 200 jobs in "distressed" neighborhoods.
“We could not agree more that the funds should be used to help improve public safety," McGrath said. "And those investments will build on the massive public safety investments in the 2017 budget: to hire nearly 1,000 officers over the next two years, to make mentoring universal, and to drive economic development in our neighborhoods.”
Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said the city's ongoing public safety crisis requires "emergency funding."
"It is unacceptable to allow this to continue," Cardenas said.
Carmen Castillo, president of the parent advisory council at Shields Elementary School, said Brighton Park was experiencing an unprecedented wave of violence, like other Chicago neighborhoods.
"Our city is in crisis," Castillo said. "The mayor needs to know this."
Lopez, who received letters this week from a group of sixth grade Shields students pleading with him to stop the violence, said the city should spend money on programs that officials know work.
"We as a city must show that we love our kids more than the gangs do," Lopez said.
Another group of aldermen said in a statement that they also had ideas on how the money should be spent.
Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), David Moore (17th) Greg Mitchell (7th) and Michael Scott (24th) said $5 million should be used to fund CeaseFire, a violence suppression program that saw its funding cut by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Another $5 million should go to help seniors stay in their homes by making money available to them for repairs, the aldermen said.
Other aldermen have proposed making more Chicagoans eligible for a rebate with the unclaimed money.
Only 11 percent of eligible Chicago homeowners had applied for the rebate by Dec. 13 — totaling approximately $1.9 million, Budget Director Alexandra Holt said.
Molly Poppe, a spokesman for the mayor, said Wednesday morning final figures on the tax rebate would not be available for a few more days.
When the effort was launched Oct. 1, city officials expected the rebate program would return $20 million to 155,000 households earning less than $75,000. The average rebate was expected to be $150, officials said.
The rebate is designed to help residents cope with a $589 million property tax hike — the largest tax increase in Chicago history — touted by Emanuel as the only way to fill the city's massive deficit and shore up pensions for police officers and firefighters.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.