Pioneer Press News-Star
Alderman Helen Shiller had lots to say about the 46th Ward's side of Uptown at a business luncheon hosted by Uptown United on Nov. 8.
Shiller, who voted yes to approving all key elements of the city's $5.9 billion spending plan, including an $86 million property tax hike at last week's City Council meeting, kicked off the luncheon by talking about the 2008 budget.
Asking the business audience gathered at The Spot at 4437 N. Broadway, what they would like to see cut from the budget, an audience member stated "corruption."
"Other than that response that doesn't have a response to it, it's an important one so I'm actually glad that you said it," Shiller said.
Shiller explained that the costs related to corruption stemming from political hiring and inappropriate police activity, plus the three new city departments created to deal with corruption, drove up expenses in the city's 2008 budget.
"I confess the really messy importance of the responsibility that (the City Council) had for this budget," Shiller said. "What we have in front of us and what we have presented, in addition to the things that people want and nobody has told me what else concretely, because I agree that we want to get rid of corruption, but that means you have to create ways to do it."
Shiller said that more than 70 percent of the city's budget is tied up in salaries and entitlements, leaving little else for city services.
"(The city) has a rule that we're not eliminating vacancies in the police, fire and (Office of Emergency Communications) even though some think those could be rearranged and organized," Shiller said. "We're not in a position to start cutting those because there is a very strong point of view that people want to have the best public safety possible."
She cautioned that the budget shortfall opened the door to other types of fees and taxes.
"It is a popular feeling that property taxes are onerous for a good reason," the alderman explained. "But the other fees in many ways are more expensive if you were to prorate them out on a monthly basis, but they're more hidden and people don't feel as strongly about them."
Included in the city's 2008 budget, Shiller said, are 20 to 30 traffic light cameras to catch cars that speed through intersections.
"I don't know where they're going, but there's now going to be a $100 fine instead of a $90 fine," Shiller said. "I would strongly recommend to everybody in this room because part of the reason (the city) is doing this actually is to create safer streets, and if we create safer streets we'll save money. So I feel fine telling you don't get the fine, just don't go through a yellow light."
Asked about the Wilson Avenue CTA Station, Shiller acknowledged that while the station was never part of the Wilson Yard TIF redevelopment plan, TIF money is being set aside "informally" if the CTA doesn't have the capital dollars to pay for the station.
"We can at least leverage TIF dollars for federal monies that the CTA can no longer leverage because the state has been requiring that it pay off that money every year, and unless (the debt) is restructured, it's not going to change," Shiller said.
The audience also quizzed Shiller about Wilson Yard and when community residents can expect to see the next phase of construction to begin now that the new Aldi's has been built.
"The last thing I was told, which was very recently, was that ground will be broken by the end of this year," Shiller said. "Contrary to rumor there has been no change. Everything I said, I said a zillion times, and I'm not going to say it a zillion times again."
Shiller said that the next phase of construction planned for Wilson Yard is a "parking tub" which will serve as a foundation for the development's parking structure.
"I'm hesitant to give any more details because as you know they obviously changed a lot over the years," Shiller said. "The details of the project haven't changed but the timing is a little elusive as you know, but there is constant progress."