Budget Update #3: 
Cost-Efficient Government
Dear Neighbors, 

Like you, I deeply believe that increased government efficiency must play a fundamental role in our efforts to right our city's financial future.
The budget hearings with all city departments conducted over the past two weeks revealed several opportunities to continue to reshape our government to serve us more efficiently, save the taxpayers money, and raise vital revenue.
I feel that while we are in the process of deliberating an increased property tax levy to correct decades of fiscal neglect, we must stop contributing to future problems by streamlining government and reducing costs.   There are a number of ideas on the table that I encourage Mayor Emanuel to adopt, including ideas I have proposed, outlined here.  None of these need approval in Springfield and all can be implemented in the near future.  
Control Absenteeism
The overall absenteeism rates for our city government far exceed national averages, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since taking office in 2011, I have been asking questions  about controllable absenteeism and have advocated for stricter management discipline for employees who fail to report for work, or who abuse family leave and disability policies. 
During our hearings, the Office of Emergency Management, for example, admitted that it spent $3 million last year on overtime caused by people simply failing to show up for their shifts. Other departments, like Water Management, seem to have good policies in place, but numbers remain far too high.  I've requested stronger disciplinary measures be implemented across the board to ensure abuse of the system ends to save millions of dollars. 
Outsourcing 311

Well over 20,000 311 service requests are processed each year through the 311 system for the 43rd Ward alone.  However, the computer system that supports 311 is obsolete and riddled with glitches.  Mayor Emanuel has suggested that outsourcing 311 could save at least $1 million in operating efficiencies, plus $20 to $40 million dollars in software upgrade costs. The city could require a Chicago-based call center. This proposal impacts only 311 calls, as the 911 emergency call center must be manned by city employees for security reasons.

Vacation Rentals Ordinance Enforcement
Over 3,000 so called "vacation rental" units operate within Chicago, yet only 200 are properly licensed. That means the City is deprived of the $500 license fee and taxes per unit, as well as leaving unenforced important health and safety protections for visitors. Along with two of my colleagues, Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd), I have called for the immediate enforcement of the ordinance governing AirBnB 
and "vacation rentals" throughout the City (insert link to press release here). Early estimates indicate revenue may be nearly $2 million per year.
Street Fair Revenue   

Community groups invest tremendous volunteer time and money year after year to make neighborhood fund-raising festivals possible, but receive unfair treatment compared with professional for-profit festivals, which may charge admission while neighborhood festivals can only ask for donations.  Based on conservative estimates, the city could generate several million dollars in revenue through a collected city amusement tax once admission is charged by a festival.
Infrastructure Restoration Fees and Street Dumpster Fees
Contractors are required to restore damaged streets, parkways and alleys after their work is completed.  When these repairs are not made, the cost to taxpayers is significant - repaving one block costs the city $58,000, and alley repairs are even more expensive. A standard per linear cost for repairs could be charged before work begins. The money would go into city funds for street, parkway or alley reconstruction. If no damage occurs, the fees would be returned. The Chicago Department of Transportation says this could save our city millions of dollars.
Permit fees for dumpsters on the public way, and barricades, to block the street, have not been raised in almost fifteen years.  Dumpster fees cost about $100/month. These low rates allow contractors to leave dumpsters on the street longer than necessary, removing street parking.  Raising the fees on construction dumpsters and barricades would generate over $3 million a year.

I have appreciated your feedback during the budget hearings and want to encourage you to participate in two upcoming public forum opportunities.
The final budget hearing, which is for public comment, is Wednesday, October 14th at 10am in City Council Chambers.  Then, on Monday October 19th at 9am there will be "Truth in Taxation" hearings conducted by the Committee on Finance.  You are welcome to present oral or written comments at either hearing.
Thank you for your participation in the process as we work together toward fiscal stability.  You can see my previous updates here and here.

And go Cubs!


Michele Signature

 Michele Smith

 43rd Ward Alderman