CHICAGO – It could very well be called the worse budget crisis in Chicago’s history. And, with the monetary troubles comes news that Mayor Daley is seeking to privatize one of the most popular summer events of the city–The Taste of Chicago.
The city has been funding the 10-day lakefront festival that draws more than six million visitors, but the price tag is getting pretty hefty. Burdensome, too.
With a city deficit of $654.7 million, Daley is working hard to reduce those numbers. Privatizing the 30-year-old food extravaganza held in Grant Park would alleviate costs, allowing the event to continue.
Mayor Daley has several other items on his list to help bring Chicago out of the red. Other lakefront festivals, fleet management, animal care, and curbside recycling are all under consideration.
By privatizing curbside recycling, the money saved by the city can be used to provide recycling to approximately 350,000 households, or two-thirds of residents, who do not have it available in their neighborhoods. Curbside recycling would end up costing the city $20 million instead of the $60 million bill they presently face. That’s a $40 million savings.
Animal Care and Control can benefit too, by privatization, especially in light of reports where several dogs were inadvertently euthanized.
Daley is looking to come up with cash anyway he can. Another money-saving idea is to place ATM machines and movie rental boxes in city buildings, then charge a fee.
Not everyone is in favor of the move to privatize. Turning over parts of the government is a concern. The ability to effectively operate and manage is also at question. Some feel taxpayers should have control of their city government. Once the events, such as Taste of Chicago, and other functions and agencies get into the hands of private companies, the city has little to no say-so on how they will be run.
“What do you do if it costs you more and more money?” the mayor asks. Take the “The Taste” for example. The city-run festival started off as a $150,000, one-day celebration held on a three-block area of Michigan Avenue. It grew to a 10-day festival in Grant Park with three stages of live entertainment and over 200 food vendors. This year it took place during a slumped economy.
In the past, “The Taste” has been an established profitable vehicle for Chicago, racking in millions. To this day, profits for this year’s 2010 “Taste” have not been disclosed by the Office of Special Events. Keep in mind there were fewer festival-goers than in recent years. Vendors did complain about a loss of business and profits.
We have some experience already with privatization of the 36,000 parking meters that turned into a fiasco rather than financially freeing the city as anticipated. Non-functioning meters and a rise in rates are what the public had to deal with. More pain. No gain. Just another headache and frustration for the public. (And, we have a 75-year contract).
The mayor’s attempt to privatize Midway Airport never got off the ground, though he hasn’t parked the plan yet.
Whether for or against privatization, everyone agrees something has to be done about the city’s deficit and fast. We all want to resolve the budget woes, improve our city, and most importantly, retain our festivals, events and services.