City budget cuts: Forget the libraries – let’s solve fewer murders

The news stories are here and here. The budget is here. There is nothing good about any of this – the 840 layoffs and drastic cuts not only in 311 service, street repairs, libraries, and rec centers, but in police services. The budget calls for spending 7.4 percent less to investigate murders and what it calls crimes against persons, and says the police are expected to solve fewer murders as well. Also in the budget: Five furlough days for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. And that new Oak Cliff cultural center, which is supposed to open next fall? It doesn’t have any money for programming.

Fortunately, the city manager’s budget remains relatively unscathed.

More, after the jump:

One caveat before I go through this. The budget is always notoriously difficult to parse, since it’s set up in service sectors. This means that different functions in the same department can appear in different service sectors (and I still can’t figure out why the library is listed under Educational Enhancements instead of Culture, Arts, and Recreation). And this year, the City Manager calls for consolidating a variety of departments and services, which makes it even more confusing. Service spending will appear as zero in its old incarnation, only to reappear elsewhere with its true budget total, and then you have to flip back and forth to see if, in fact, spending has been cut.

The worst news about this budget is that next year is likely to be worse unless the economy improves drastically and quickly. And that usually doesn’t happen with recessions that have been this bad.

So, on to the budget:

• The police department was hammered. Yes, we’re going to hire 191 extra cops, but we have less money to pay them. Spending for crimes against persons was cut 7.4 percent and the expected murder clearance rate dropped from 57 to 53 percent. In New York City, by comparison, the murder clearance rate was 72.2 percent in 2008. Also cut: narcotics, 8.2 percent, and domestic violence and juvenile crime, 7.2 percent.

• We’ll close 14 swimming pools next summer (the budget euphemism is “renovation and reconstruction”) and cut the pool budget by 22 percent.

• We expected rec center cuts. But did we expect that the budget would redefine what the city considers an acceptable level of service? In last year’s budget, it said it wanted 55 percent of residents to rate “the quality of recreation programs good to excellent.” This year, that number drops to 44 percent.

• 311 service was cut, of course, and the budget expects service to suffer. In the 2008-09 year, abandoned calls were 5 percent; next year, 14 percent will be acceptable.

• The library system, as we know it, may be on its deathbed. Not only was service reduced, but the budget for buying books and materials was slashed – from $1.7 million to $470,000 for the downtown library and to $852,000 for the branch libraries. Given how the materials budget has been cut over the past 15 years, we may be at the point where it’s barely worth bothering. And did I mention that the city manager’s office remained relatively unscathed?

• Debt service increased 6.9 percent, and it now comprises around 11 percent of the city budget. In corrupt, ward politics, tax and spend Chicago, it’s 14 percent. Guess we have something to look forward to.

• The biggest loser was cultural affairs, which not only had its budget decimated, but its department eliminated. It was consolidated (along with WRR) into the library department. Given how little respect the city bureaucrats have for the library system, I can assume we’re seeing the end of cultural affairs spending and another push to sell WRR for pennies on the dollar in some sweetheart deal under the guise of privatization.


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  • Aaron

    Jeff get ready for everything to be privatized next Fair Park.