CHICAGO — Before the COVID-19 crisis struck, many Cook County suburbs were already facing steep financial challenges.
But the economic shutdown has only made matters worse. To the point where some local government leaders are laying off police officers and other staff, as they look to save cash and avoid painful property tax hikes down the road.
“My budget director is projecting a budget shortfall of anywhere between $800,000 and $1.2 million,” Riverdale Mayor Lawrence Jackson said. “Worse-case scenario we will probably need to reduce our staff by a third.”
WGN Investigates has learned other towns are also tasting the pain.
The suburbs of Hazel Crest and Markham have both laid off municipal workers. In Country Club Hills, a total of 38 employees were recently let go, as the village braces for a budget deficit that could top $6 million by year’s end.
“The economic impact of the COVID crisis is going to go on for years,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a Chicago-based tax policy and government research organization. “Regardless of what people’s economic condition or their financial management was before this crisis, every one of them now needs help from the federal government.”
Whether that aid will come remains under unclear.
For towns like Lynwood, help is needed now.
“We were always short on finances,” Mayor Eugene Williams said. “We were trying to do our best to increase, to do better.”
The financial pressure has only increased during the pandemic. To save cash, the village has suspended or cut services, such as recycling, and trimmed payroll through a combination of furloughs and layoffs.
The moves, although painful, were necessary, the Williams said.
“Because in order to get through this we have to figure just as you would at home – OK, how much money do we have,” he said. “What can get us from this period to that period?”