• Alex Nitkin
    SEP 29, 2021

    Animal Control, Procurement Services, AIS set to take turns in budget hot seat

    A Chicago Animal Care and Control worker returns a duck to the Chicago River. The department is called to round up stray animals. [Instagram/Chicago Animal Care and Control]

    City Council budget hearings are set to continue on Wednesday with the city’s Department of Procurement Services, promising to resurface long-running complaints from aldermen about the city’s record on hiring minority-owned construction firms. Committee members are also set to quiz animal control officials on their efforts to round up and care for stray animals, as well as leaders of the Department of Assets, Information and Services about upgrading the city’s technology and public buildings.

    Animal Care and Control

    The budget for Chicago Animal Care and Control will tick up by only about 2 percent to approximately $7.16 million, even as it grows its headcount from 77 to 80 full-time employee positions.  

    The office operates the city’s Little Village animal shelter, where it provides medical care for more than 16,000 animals annually and partners with rescue and adoption centers to place them in homes, according to budget documents. Animal Care and Control also runs pet vaccination and microchip programs, enforces the city’s animal-related ordinances, like the beefed up “puppy mill” ban (SO2020-2827) passed by the City Council earlier this year, and it investigates complaints of dangerous animals found in the city.

    Related: ‘Puppy mill’ ordinance to get its day in health committee after months-long delay

    Its goals for the next year include looking for “efficiencies” in the animal intake process, “increasing racial equity” in adoption outreach and volunteer recruitment and boosting the capacity of its spay and neuter programs by 10 percent. The city took in more than 7,500 animals through July 2021 and processed 437 adoptions and nearly 4,500 transfers during that period, according to officials.

    The office plans to expand its workforce with the addition of one extra “animal care aide” and two additional veterinary staff positions, according to budget documents. 

    Aldermen complained during last year’s budget hearings that Animal Care and Control workers were not doing enough to catch stray animals roaming through city neighborhoods.

    Related: Coyotes, raccoons and ‘barnyard animals’ a major complaint of aldermen during animal control budget hearing

    Department of Procurement Services

    The budget committee will next grill leaders of the city’s Department of Procurement Services, which is responsible for arranging and executing city contracts with private construction firms and other entities. The department is set for a significant budget boost under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed plan, growing from about $8.4 million allocated in 2021 to $10.3 million next year with 12 new full-time employee positions set to open. 

    The hearing will represent the first moment in the spotlight for new Chief Procurement Officer Aileen Velazquez, whom Lightfoot appointed earlier this month to relieve acting department chief Monica Jimenez. Jimenez took over when former department head Shannon Andrews stepped down in the spring. 

    Velazquez is likely to field questions about the city’s minority hiring goals for contractors, a hot-button topic among aldermen — especially members of the Latino Caucus, who have suggested they could withhold votes for Lightfoot’s budget proposal if the city does not improve its record on Latino hiring and workforce programs. 

    Related: Latino Caucus leaders to prioritize economic recovery, racial parity in 2022 budget

    The department is also set to more than triple its budget for contractual services, with nearly $700,000 in new funding allocated for technical services and information technology maintenance.

    Most of the added positions slated for the department will come through a new 26-member Office of Contracting Equity, which will replace the 19-member Certification and Compliance division.

    The department plans to launch a “new certification and compliance management system” to better track the city’s minority contracting goals, including a “vendor profile site” allowing would-be contractors to “showcase their skill set and niche areas,” according to budget documents.

    The City Council earlier this month voted (O2021-2865) to widen the reach of the city’s Minority- and Women-Owned Enterprise program and extend it through 2027.

    Related: Extension of minority contracting program clears committee with weeks to spare before expiration

    Assets, Information and Services

    Finally on Wednesday, the committee is set to grill Comm. David Reynolds of the city’s Department of Assets, Information and Services. The department is responsible for overseeing city-owned properties, vehicles and information technology infrastructure.

    The budget committee had originally been slated to quiz leaders of the Department of Aviation Wednesday afternoon, but officials had to switch up the schedule due to a conflict, Ald. Pat Dowell (3) said Tuesday. 

    The department is set to see a substantial uptick in its 2022 budget, from about $460.3 million to $513.9 million, with 27 new full-time equivalent positions.

    Among the department’s planned 2022 initiatives is to “Institute a comprehensive City IT program that pursues and advances the goals” of a long-range plan to upgrade the city’s technology. A city-hired consultant this year identified $350 million in upgrades needed to modernize the city’s tech landscape. 

    Related: Nearly half of city-used software in ‘poor condition,’ should be updated or replaced: consultant

    Officials in the Department of Assets, Information and Services are also working to finalize a new franchise agreement with Commonwealth Edison or a competitor to deliver electricity throughout the city. Negotiations with ComEd appeared stalled earlier this year, when Lightfoot’s office released a Request for Information seeking out other potential utility providers.

    Related: ComEd ‘committed’ to reaching new franchise deal, but Lightfoot’s demands remain unanswered 

    The department was birthed in 2019 as part of a Lightfoot-led initiative to merge the city’s Department of Fleet and Facilities Management with its Department of Innovation and Technology. Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), who chairs the council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development, has called to reverse that move, arguing the city needs its own IT department. He introduced a resolution (R2021-993) this month calling to reinstate the former standalone agency.

    Related: Bring back standalone city IT department, technology committee chair says

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