Statement on the 2021 City of Chicago Budget

On November 24th, my colleagues and I in City Council voted to approve the 2021 budget for the City of Chicago by a vote of 29 to 21. After a lengthy and rigorous review process, which I led as Chair of the City Council Committee on the Budget and Government Operations, I am proud to have voted in support of this budget which reflects the financial reality that the pandemic has inflicted on Chicago, while still protecting needed services that residents depend on every day.

Before discussing the budget specifics, some of which I have previously shared in previous e-communications, I would like to thank the many residents that I have met with, spoken to, and written to me to share their thoughts on the budget proposal. Your input and insights have helped me to better understand how this budget will affect the everyday lives of 3rd Ward residents.

We are in a global economic crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic–and as a result, our city faces fiscal peril like never before. This situation left us with no easy options. But I am grateful that together, we passed a fiscally responsible spending plan that can put our city on track to recover from this pandemic. And in addition, within this budget, we continue to make investments in affordable housing, mental health, homelessness, and violence prevention that reflect our values rooted in equity and inclusion. Furthermore, thanks to meaningful collaboration with our partners in the labor movement, we were able to avoid hundreds of layoffs to our essential city workers that just a few months ago seemed inevitable. Those workers are our neighbors, and provide irreplaceable public services. They helped keep our city moving forward in the darkest days of this pandemic. To send them to the unemployment rolls during this crisis would be unconscionable. 

Through savings and efficiencies, new revenues, and thoughtful investments, we have addressed a historic $1.2 billion deficit – 65% of which resulted directly from the economic impacts of the pandemic. 
Notably, this budget includes:

  • An additional $1.7 million for youth programming for a total of $38 million in funding for 2021
  • $2 million in new funding for affordable housing above existing 2020 levels
  • Nearly $6 million for economic recovery efforts to support workforce training, help small businesses build capacity and assist with job creation and recruitment
  • An additional $10 million in community-based violence prevention efforts, bringing the total amount of funding for violence prevention in 2021 to a record high of $36 million
  • $430.9 million in improved fiscal management and savings
  • Dedicated funding for a Capital Plan that will help address our City’s backlog of infrastructure needs while also putting thousands of hard working Chicagoans back to work

This vote also included some extraordinarily difficult choices. After exploring every possible avenue, we ultimately confirmed that a modest property tax increase was unavoidable if we were to avoid financial disaster for our local economy in these unprecedented times. Homeowners are struggling right now, which is why we considered this path as an absolute last resort. 

I want to assure you that we analyzed every line of this budget, and we asked tough questions of every department head. It became abundantly clear that the only way to implement a structural solution to avoid this property tax hike would be to impose a large number of layoffs that would surely have impacted public services. To me, this was an unacceptable option. As we have seen nationwide, we are still in a pandemic and we must maintain essential services, and support for those who are most in need, as we battle to keep our neighbors and communities safe. This is not the time for cuts that would jeopardize the delivery of essential public services.

Some have proposed avoiding the tax increase by simply borrowing more. But taxpayers would also foot the bill for that option–and just like other borrowing, it would ultimately cost us even more due to interest and fees. 
According to the City, this property tax increase, which would be billed for the first time in 2022, would equal 1.3% of our current tax bills. You can find an explanation of how property taxes are imposed here.

Finally, many Chicagoans through this budget process voiced their desire to see us reimagine the role of police in our communities. We heard you–the police cannot always be the first and only responders on every call for help from our residents. That’s why the 2021 budget will include the launch of two pilot programs that will ensure trained mental health professionals and community paramedics respond to certain 911 calls, rather than just police officers. 

This new public safety pilot program is in addition to the many investments your tax dollars have contributed to in the 3rd Ward. Over the last couple years, working together we have been able to open new schools in the South Loop (South Loop Elementary School) and Bronzeville (Bronzeville Classical School), rebuild miles of roads and sidewalks, construct new parks (Hadiya Pendleton Park, 21st and Prairie Park, Beasley Elementary School Playground, Williams Park Fieldhouse), attract new businesses in every neighborhood in the ward, build hundreds of new market rate and affordable housing units where there wasn’t residential development before, and renovate aging public transit (Garfield Green Line, McCormick Place Green Line, Red Line Renovation). Your tax dollars go back to support you and your community.

Leading this budget process was not easy. But you have entrusted me to be your conscientious and vigilant fiscal steward. I feel it is my duty to make difficult but needed decisions to guarantee the healthy future of all of our communities. The 2021 budget puts our public safety and public health first, and it will serve as our roadmap towards recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I thank you for your thoughtful input, and for continuing to put your trust in me as your alderman throughout this difficult time.

Pat Dowell

Alderman, 3rd Ward