• Alex Nitkin
    Erin Hegarty
    SEP 27, 2021

    Valencia, Conyears-Ervin, DFSS to defend growing budgets as departmental budget hearings kick off

    Clerk Anna Valencia and Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin are set to face questions during budget hearings on Monday.

    Following the City Council’s all-day grilling of city budget officials on Friday, aldermen are set to begin drilling down into the city’s individual departments Monday morning as they quiz Clerk Anna Valencia and Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin about their expanded budgets for the 2022 budget year. And in the afternoon, the Committee on Budget and Government Operations will hear from the leader of the city’s License Appeal Commission and the chief of the Department of Family and Support Services.

    City Clerk

    The budget for Valencia’s office is set to grow to nearly $11.9 million under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s budget recommendation, up from about $10.5 million allocated for 2021. The office pulls most of its funding from the city’s Vehicle Tax Fund, which is fed from city vehicle stickers. 

    The office’s budget is set to grow thanks in part to about $400,000 in additional personnel costs, including the creation of an “archival specialist” position, bringing its headcount to 91 workers.  

    Meanwhile, the office’s non-personnel costs are set to grow by nearly $1 million, with higher costs budgeted for line items including postage, information technology maintenance and software licensing. 

    The office eliminated six vacant positions last year with another nine unfilled, leading to staffing shortages, Valencia told aldermen in last year’s budget hearing.

    Related: Aldermen raise concerns over staffing, decreased budget for City Clerk’s office heading into 2021

    Budget documents show Valencia has committed next year to plow ahead with the “City Council modernization initiative,” including “development of a new legislative document management software and intake process to streamline council submissions.” Valencia said last year that the project would likely cost between $3 million and $5 million over three years but would ultimately save the city money.

    City Treasurer

    The Treasurer’s office budget is projected to grow from about $4 million to $4.8 million, mostly due to the addition of five new full-time equivalent positions, bringing the office’s staff up to 35.

    Officials are proposing to tap the city’s Corporate Fund to pay for a new four-member “portfolio management team” to keep tabs on the city’s $8.5 billion in investment assets. And the city will dip into the O’Hare Airport fund for the creation of a new Deputy City Treasurer position with an attached salary of $127,000.

    Related: Widening city’s investment net could help fight systemic racism in banking, Conyears-Ervin tells aldermen

    During last year’s budget hearing, aldermen put pressure on Conyears-Ervin to crack down on banks where the city has invested money and that have overwhelmingly resisted issuing home loans in neighborhoods of color. The treasurer resisted divesting from banks like Chase and Bank of America, instead pushing for the city to widen its investment pool to include smaller, community-based banks. She got her wish in July, when the City Council approved an ordinance she proposed to (O2021-2879) lower barriers for smaller banks to apply as municipal depositories. 

    Last month, the council followed up by passing an ordinance (O2021-2872) proposed by Ald. Harry Osterman (48) that requires banks to publicly disclose their home equity loans, broken down by ZIP code, before they can apply for a new annual term as a Chicago municipal depository.

    Chicago’s existing roster of depositories, approved by aldermen earlier this year (O2020-6251), includes about a dozen mostly big-name national banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase.

    Inspector General Joseph Ferguson wrote in a report last month that the treasurer’s office does not do enough to coordinate with the City Council and Department of Finance to vet banks that apply to hold city-owned assets.

    Related: City has ‘no process’ to stop investing public dollars in banks with racist lending patterns, watchdog says

    Department of Family and Support Services

    Under Lightfoot’s proposed budget, funding for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services is set to grow from $841.3 million to more than $918.5 million in 2022, a more than 9 percent increase.

    The City Council approved Brandie Knazze (A2021-73) as leader of the department in June. She had previously served as interim chief following the departure of long-time Comm. Lisa Morrison Butler.

    The department is tasked with managing Chicago’s community-based early learning programs and the city’s more than 3,000-bed shelter network. The Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) also provides support for victims of domestic violence and offers in-home and caregiving services for seniors.

    DFSS’ funding from the city’s Corporate Fund is expected to jump by more than $4 million to $99.4 million, and grant funding for the department is set to increase by about $72 million to more than $783.6 million.

    Despite the overall funding increase for DFSS, the department would lose the equivalent of seven full-time positions under Lightfoot’s plan.

    In 2022, DFSS plans to launch a “shelter diversion” pilot program seeking to end residents’ experiences with homelessness more quickly through “strengths-based conversations, creative problem solving, and conflict resolution to empower people to find an immediate alternatives to shelter and return to more stable housing,” according to budget documents. Department officials plan to consider 1,500 households for the diversion program next year, budget documents show.

    The department also plans to launch the “My Chi My Future” mobile app as a way to connect Chicago youth to programs and resources citywide.

    License Appeal Commission

    Funding for the city’s License Appeal Commission is budgeted to increase by $6,689 next year, according to Lightfoot’s proposed spending plan.

    The license appeal commission is funded fully by the city’s Corporate budget and has one full-time position. Funding for “personnel services” is set to balloon by more than $6,600 to $102,732 in 2022, accounting for a vast majority of the commission’s budget increase next year.

    The commission oversees public hearings for liquor license applications and reviews appeals for suspensions, revocations and fines given by the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

    Chicago’s license appeal commission conducted eight public hearings through the first seven months of 2021, compared to 19 total in 2020, budget documents show. In 2022, the commission plans to implement goals in “equity, diversity, accessibility, and gender-based violence awareness,” according to budget documents.

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