• Erin Hegarty
    Alex Nitkin
    OCT 01, 2021

    OEMC, water and aviation departments set to defend proposed 2022 spending plans

    Leaders from the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications are scheduled Friday to brief aldermen on the office’s 2022 spending plan. [OEMC]

    The City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations is scheduled on Friday to ask the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, water department and aviation department to defend their proposed 2022 budgets, which together come out to more than $1.6 billion. Friday’s three department budget hearings will close out day six of the 11-day marathon of budget committee hearings on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed spending plan.  


    Office of Emergency Management and Communications  

    The Office of Emergency Management and Communications would see its budget drop from $136.2 million in 2021 to about $121.3 million next year, largely due to a $12.3 million decrease in grant funding, budget documents show.  

    Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) receives and dispatches all the city’s 911 emergency calls and receives the city’s 311 non-emergency calls. It also oversees planning and training for emergency preparedness related to disasters, emergency and large special events, and it operates the city’s Operations Center and Emergency Operations Center, according to city documents.  

    Under Lightfoot’s proposed 2022 spending plan, OEMC’s full-time equivalent positions would fall from 1,060 positions in 2021 to 962 next year. 

    The agency also saw a decline in its budget and full-time headcount between 2020 and 2021 as management of 898 crossing guards was taken over by Chicago Public Schools — a move that was projected to save the city about $50 million.  

    Related: Pass an ordinance on recruitment exams to help diversify fire department, commissioner tells aldermen  

    In 2022, OEMC plans to update its 911 computer-aided dispatch system and create a “comprehensive plan” to combine the Operations Center, which handles public safety initiatives, with the City Incident Center, whose focus is on public works and weather events. 

    OEMC next year also plans to partner with the fire and police departments and the Department of Assets, Information and Services to implement “Safe Chicago,” an initiative to ensure the safety of Chicago and municipal employees via “life-saving equipment” and training, according to budget documents. 

    Department of Water Management  

    The Department of Water Management is set to see an uptick in its budget from $315.9 million in 2021 to more than $331.2 million in 2022, budget documents show. The largest spending increases are planned in the department’s Bureau of Water Supply and Bureau of Operations and Distribution.   

    Chicago’s water department oversees the collection, purification and distribution of one billion gallons daily of drinking water to Chicago and 123 suburbs. The department also maintains the city’s water and sewer systems, which include 4,300 miles of water mains; 48,114 hydrants; and 4,500 miles of sewer and stormwater mains and 350,000 structures and manholes, according to budget documents. 

    The City Council in June confirmed Andrea Cheng (A2021-61) as the water department’s new leader, and on Friday she will field questions from aldermen for the first time in her capacity as commissioner. Previous Comm. Randy Conner retired at the end of last year.

    Lightfoot’s budget proposal grows the water department’s full-time equivalent employee count by 38 positions, notching it up to a 1,362-position department in 2022. 

    The water department’s Bureau of Engineering Services is set to add 29 positions and the Bureau of Water Supply would gain nine additional positions. The department’s Bureau of Administrative Support is set to add seven additional positions, including a Labor Relations Specialist and five Associate Human Resources Business Partners.  

    The water department in 2022 plans to continue the construction of the Phosphate Feed System Project, which is expected to reduce lead levels within lead service lines and continue developing the Lead Service Line Replacement Program to ensure city work on lead lines follow new regulations from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that are set to kick in Jan. 1, 2023. 

    Aldermen are likely to grill Cheng about the city’s plan for replacing lead service lines, as the Tribune reported in September that the city continues to lag in its efforts to replace the water lines. 

    During last year’s budget hearing, Conner told aldermen the city’s system was not built for the type of weather and flooding the city was seeing and that the department was “looking at a lot of very different ways to capture water,” whether underground or above ground, trying to “keep the water on the street longer so that it doesn’t go into peoples’ basements.”  

    Related: City Inspector General criticizes Chicago Police Department for lack of progress on consent decree 

    Department of Aviation  

    Diversity in hiring has been top of mind for the Department of Aviation, which is last in line for its budget hearing on Friday. Aviation department Comm. Jamie Rhee vowed to skeptical aldermen during last year’s budget hearings that officials would ensure racial parity in hiring for the multi-year, multi-billion-dollar O’Hare 21 project to rebuild the airport’s Terminal 2.   

    Related: Aviation chief vows diverse hiring as $8.5B O’Hare expansion moves forward  

    And the topic surfaced again earlier this month, when Latino members of the Committee on Aviation voted against a new vendor agreement in protest of low Latino participation in the department’s Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program.   

    Related: O’Hare concession agreement clears divided committee as Latino aldermen question its ‘parity’ and ‘equity’  

    The aviation department budget is set to roughly level out between this year and 2022, as an approximately $27 million decline in O’Hare’s budget offsets a proposed $17 million hike in Midway’s budget. The decline in O’Hare spending is explained by a relative decline in grant funding. 

    However, city budget officials are proposing to boost funding allocations from both the O’Hare Airport Fund and Midway Airport Fund. The funds are fed by concession fees paid by airlines.  

    And the department is planning a hiring spree to reverse the 26 vacant full-time positions it cut as part of the 2021 budget. Midway is slated to grow its headcount by 23 workers, and O’Hare is in line for an additional 94 full-time staffers. New staff positions include “general laborers,” operations supervisors, mechanics and project administrators as the airports look to expand capacity in the coming years.  

    O’Hare is also set to double the headcount of its Noise Abatement division from seven to 14 staffers, as the airport’s long-range O’Hare Modernization Program runway-straightening project has kicked up complaints of low-flying jets in surrounding neighborhoods. 


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