Suburbanites feel sting of Emanuel's budget

November 10, 2011

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(Flickr/Sam Dickey)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, when introducing his first budget, declared that people who use city services need to pay for them, "even if they are not residents of Chicago."

That rationale has allowed Emanuel to deflect some criticism from his budget proposal, by reminding aldermen that he's spreading out the pain. An increase to the hotel tax is just one of Emanuel's revenue schemes that'll hit visitors to the city. As part of our coverage this week of the new mayor's budget, we look at the suburban impact.

Izetta McGee drives downtown from Oak Park nearly every weekday, and she pays dearly to park.

"Three hundred dollars a month, which is cheap within the Loop area," McGee said.

It's likely to get a bit less cheap. Emanuel's budget includes a $2 per-weekday tax increase that'll affect the city's most expensive parking areas.

"That's a lot," McGee said. "When you think about it, that's $40 a month."

And $480 more each year on McGee's parking bill.

Emanuel is calling this a "congestion premium." It'll raise cash to pay for some public transit improvements and bike lanes, and - the mayor said - discourage folks from driving downtown.

"I really don't have a choice," said McGee, who is a court reporter. "On any given day, I could have to be in Chicago, I might have to be in Schaumburg. I might have to be in Markham. And you know a lot of times I'm downtown and somebody will say, 'Can you come to Markham?' So I have to have my car. I have to have my car."

The parking tax hike isn't the only part of Chicago's budget that could sting suburbanites. McGee's hometown of Oak Park is one of more than 100 communities that get Lake Michigan water from Chicago. They'll all be affected by the city's plan to finance infrastructure work by just about doubling what Chicago charges them for water over the next four years.

In the first year alone, "You're talking about an average cost to an average Oak Park resident of 80-to-100 dollars a year," said Tom Barwin, Oak Park village manager.

Barwin sent Chicago a letter protesting the rapid increase in water fees, but hasn't heard back.

The good news on this front for Izetta McGee is she rents her apartment, and doesn't have to pay the water bill. But she expects her landlord to use it as a reason to raise her rent.

"Oh yeah," she said, laughing. "That's what business is all about."

And as for that higher parking tax McGee would have to pay, she said she may just pass it on to her customers.