Fran Spielman - Chicago Sun-Times
hicago taxpayers face yet another property tax increase for police and fire pensions in 2020 — and another hike the following year in the tax tacked onto water and sewer bills to save the Municipal Employees pension fund, aldermen learned on the first day of City Council budget hearings.
Following five-year “ramp-up” periods, the additional increases will be needed to honor the city’s statutory promise to keep all four city government pension funds on the road to 90 percent funding by 2048.
By the city’s own estimate, police and fire pension costs will rise by $297.3 million, or 36 percent, in 2020. The Municipal and Laborers plan costs will grow by $330.4 million, or 50 percent, in 2022.
“We’ve done the biggest [property tax] increases,” Chicago Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown said Monday. “But there will be an increase in 2020 for police and fire. The increase for Muni and Laborers will happen a couple years later. . . .
“When this Council passed the water and sewer tax last year, there were assumed increases in the tax from the first year to correspond to increases in the ramp. We would anticipate that if those were the revenue sources assigned on a going-forward basis after we got to actuarial funding, there would need to be increases in those revenues.”
Molly Poppe, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, insisted later that Brown had been referring only to the state-mandated increase in the city’s contribution to the police and fire pension funds. Brown “indicated that Police and Fire pension contributions will increase in 2020; she did not say property taxes will increase in 2020,” Poppe said in an email.
Later, Brown issued a statement of her own saying, “This budget is for 2018 and was just completed last week, and at no point did I say the City will increase property taxes in 2020. Plain and simple.”
But during the exchange with Ald. Joe Moore (49th), Brown was specifically asked where the city would find the money to pay for that higher contribution.
That’s when Brown replied that, although the worst of the property tax increases was the $543 million increase approved two years ago, another increase was inevitable.
This year’s contribution to all four city employee pension funds is $1.18 billion. By 2021, that actuarially required contribution will rise to $1.8 billion.
Chicago taxpayers have been hit with nearly $1.1 billion in property tax increases, primarily for police, fire and teacher pensions and school construction; a 29.5 percent tax on water and sewer bills to save the Municipal Employees pension fund; a 56 percent telephone tax hike in 2014 and another 28.2 percent next year for the Laborers fund; a new garbage collection fee; a bag tax; and increases in water, sewer and city sticker fees, hotel and parking taxes and parking fines, among others.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) questioned the fairness of Emanuel’s plan to raise the monthly tax tacked on to Chicago telephone bills by $1.10 — from $3.90 to $5 — and apply it to every one of the 1.53 million cell phones and 733,893 land lines in the city.
The money will be used, in part, to overhaul Chicago’s 20-year-ol