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Residents don’t want to raise property taxes to balance the budget, city survey says

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Residents would cut budgets for development and housing

A row of brick homes in a neighborhood. Shutterstock

After a series of city budget town halls, the mayor’s office released the results of a survey offered in conjunction with the meetings. Not surprisingly, most people who answered don’t want Chicago’s property taxes to change.

More than 2,500 people showed up at the four town halls in September, and one in October, to learn more about the city’s spending and massive $838 million budget deficit for 2020. Mayor Lori Lightfoot hasn’t announced a property tax hike, but she’s made it clear nothing is off the table until her administration can figure out a solution.

Illinois already has the second-highest property taxes, so adding on more locally (especially after the previous administration’s historic hikes in 2015) isn’t an excitable idea for most Chicagoans.

In particular, 72 percent of survey takers wanted to learn more about the city’s property taxes and 85 percent felt that the rates should be kept the same.

The survey provided way to gauge how some residents felt about city taxes and spending, but it was also partly a civics lesson. A section of the survey asked respondents to divide up $1,000 between nine categories on the city budget including infrastructure, development, and libraries.

In order to balance the budget, residents filling out the survey said they’d much rather increase cigarette, alcohol or ride-hailing service taxes over property taxes. Mayor Lightfoot has floated ideas about congestion pricing or adding onto existing ride-hailing fees. She’s also suggested a real estate transfer tax on luxury property sales.

Looking into the city’s spending, most people who answered were interested in the budget allocation for infrastructure. Since that’s an area which can receive state and federal funding, and can include everything from street reconfigurations to sewage systems, it makes there were questions around it.

About half of respondents suggested cutting the budget for the city’s departments of development and housing. These departments oversee zoning and land policies, neighborhood development, affordable housing, and more.

Feedback from residents can be insightful and community engagement has the potential to make tough decisions ahead a little bit less shocking. But while most people revolt at the idea of raising property taxes, it’s hard to imagine how raising a cigarette tax could make a dent in the ever-growing budget hole. In an effort to use every resource, the mayor has asked for state legislators in Springfield for support. A plan for the budget is expected soon, but Lightfoot hasn’t announced any firm details.