It was early morning Septemeber 8 and WVON Radio host Matt McGill was handling a succession of obviously perplexed callers after he asked if the City of Chicago should add 500 new police officers. The basis for the question was a quote from Sixth Ward Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer. Sawyer’s comment appeared extensively in Chicago dailies and broadcast outlets after stating the city did need more cops.

Several of the callers offered that rather than spend money on more cops, the city should direct those dollars to education, mental health or other areas they saw where city hall was missing the mark. Thursday’s discussion was reminiscent of most debates in our community involving public financing.

city hall sign

We need a better understanding of how city hall operates

 In almost every instance residents suggest monies be re-applied from Area A to cover something in Area B. Many municipal government critics also operate under the presumption that tax dollars cover all city expenses.

Because most municipalities, whether they are as large as Chicago, or as tiny as Cairo, IL operate on a combination of local tax dollars, state and federal contributions. Most of the time these two are earmarked for specific areas or line items can’t be shifted to other areas, regardless of how large a problem exists.

What that translates to is a municipality might report that its budget is x, but included in that number are revenue streams that are provided by taxpayers. City officials can pursue additional dollars from state and federal government sources, but there is no guarantee it will receive them.  That is why so often city councils vote to raise taxes, fees, or issue bonds because they know if those dollars are approved, city officials have absolute control.

Roderick Sawyer

Sixth Ward Alderman heads the Black Caucus

The brouhaha over Alderman Sawyer’s comments proved to be unfounded because despite what was reported the alderman explained there was no council committee meeting about hiring more cops. It was simply his individual response to a reporter’s question. So it is a wait-and-see situation whether more cops, as suggested by one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s cronies, will be hired. Click the link below to get an understanding of how budget dollars are divided.

http://chicago.github.io/annual-financial-analysis/primer/