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Emanuel to ease library cuts, raise all city sticker fees

Mayor Rahm Emanuel during City Council meeting   Wednesday November 2 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel during City Council meeting, Wednesday, November 2, 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: December 6, 2011 8:25AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is softening the blow of his library cuts — and raising city sticker fees across the board instead of confining the increase to large vehicles — to accommodate rebel aldermen and win the 26 votes he needs to approve his 2012 budget.

“I said we were gonna form a new partnership between ... the mayor and City Council — that the voters didn’t want Council Wars and they also didn’t want a City Council that would be a rubber stamp,” Emanuel told a City Hall news conference Friday. “This speaks to that new partnership ... that hears what the aldermen say, listens to their suggestions and ideas and addresses them, because there’s more than one way to get to a destination point.”

The mayor’s original plan called for raising the city sticker fee for large vehicles by $15 and broadening the umbrella of drivers forced to pay the new $135 fee for “large passenger vehicles” to include 184,000 more vehicles.

The decision to reduce the weight threshold from 4,500 pounds to 4,000 pounds came under fire from City Clerk Susana Mendoza and others because it would have forced soccer moms and other mini-van drivers to pay $60 more for their city stickers.

The mayor’s new plan would maintain the 4,500-pound weight limit in favor of across-the-board increases of $10 to $85 for small and medium-sized vehicles; and $15 to $135 for the larger ones. That means all 1.26 million drivers who buy city stickers would pay more, except for senior citizens and motorcycle owners.

Emanuel also followed Mendoza’s recommendation by raising the penalties for failing to display a valid city sticker — from a $120 fine and a $40 late fee to $200 and $60, respectively.

The mayor’s plan to switch to an across-the-board increase in city sticker fees did not work to satisfy Mendoza, however. Far from it.

“I am very much opposed to an increase for anyone right now,” the clerk said.

Noting that 200,000 drivers were ticketed last year for failing to display valid city stickers, Mendoza said, “I don’t think we should ask people who are currently in compliance to pay more before going after those who are blatantly breaking the law and choosing not to pay their fair share.”

The mayor’s decision to restore $1 million he cut from graffiti removal and vacant lot cleaning and $3.3 million cut from Chicago Public Libraries did please aldermen, however. Instead of laying off 284 employees, libraries would fire 184; and Monday and Friday morning closings would not apply during the 19 weeks when school is out.

To address aldermanic concerns about struggling parish churches, the mayor is softening the impact of the water and sewer fees he plans to impose for the first time on hospitals, universities, churches and other non-profits.

Instead of cutting off the free water spigot in one fell swoop, Emanuel plans to give those institutions a 60 percent discount in 2012, 40 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2014. By 2015, they would pay full freight.

Yet another change still being negotiated would reduce — not eliminate — the $75-a-year refuse collection rebate paid to condominium owners.

Lakefront aldermen have complained that it’s a matter of fairness, since condo owners pay property taxes, but have to pay private scavenger services because city crews do not pick up their garbage.

Rebel aldermen welcomed the mayor’s peace offering and the open-door policy that set the stage for compromise.

“Under Daley, there wasn’t much opportunity to say, ‘Here’s another option. Here’s an alternative to doing these cuts.’ It was basically, ‘There’s the cuts. Vote on it,’” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). “This mayor has come back to the table. His budget director found a way to soften the blow. Of course, we’ll like to see all of these things off the table. But it’s his budget. He’s essentially setting his course for the next four years.”

Still, Waguespack said maverick aldermen plan to push for further changes.

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