City’s cash balance, police arrests down — emergency responses up

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed the books on 2013 with $33.9 million in cash on hand — virtually unchanged from last year, but down from $167 million two years ago, city audits show.

Emanuel also failed to make a dent in the mountain of debt piled on Chicago taxpayers.

Earlier this year, Moody’s Investors dropped Chicago’s bond rating another notch, citing “massive and growing unfunded pension liabilities” that “threaten the city’s fiscal solvency” without “major revenue” and budget cuts “in the near term” and for years to come. 

The drop to three notches above junk status came just eight months after Moody’s had ordered an unprecedented triple-drop in the bond rating that determines city borrowing costs.

Moody’s noted that Chicago’s $32 billion unfunded pension liability is eight times operating revenue and the “highest of any rated U.S. local government.”

Since then, Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a bill that increases employee contributions by 29 percent and reduces employee benefits to save two of four city employee pension funds.

The 2013 city audits by the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche paint an even more detailed picture of city finances.

They show that an unallocated balance that was $167 million just two year ago because of Emanuel’s aggressive cost-cutting efforts now stands at $33.9 million.

Budget Director Alex Holt could not be reached for comment. Last year, Holt blamed the precipitous drop on “honest” budgeting that ended the longstanding practice of carrying “ghost” vacancies.

Chicago’s general obligation debt backed by property taxes now stands at nearly $8 billion or $2,936.19 for each of the city’s 2.7 million residents. Counting “overlapping debt,” the total owed is $28.3 billion. 

The audits provide a treasure trove of information about city finances and operations. Interesting nuggets include:

■ The number of “physical arrests” by Chicago Police officers declined once again — from 145,390 in 2012 to 143,618 last year.  That continues a steady trend that coincides with a dramatic decline in the number of police officers. Police made 227,576 arrests in 2006. 

The Chicago Police Department has long argued that it doesn’t measure the success of crime-fighting strategies simply by the number of arrests. 

■ Emergency responses provided by the Chicago Fire Department skyrocketed — from 472,752 in 2012 to 675,570 last year. 

■ Daily refuse collections declined from 3,763 tons in 2012 to 3,562 last year. The amount of garbage generated by the 600,000 Chicago households was 4,451 tons-a-day in 2006. 

■ Without the record heat and drought conditions of 2012,  average daily water consumption dropped — from 793,274 million gallons in 2012 to 756,486 last year. In 2006, Chicago’s 1.04 million households were guzzling 884.9 million gallons a day. Operating revenues in the city’s water fund were up by $80.8 million or 10.6 percent, thanks to Emanuel’s 15 percent increase in water rates. 

■ O’Hare Airport operating revenues were up by $15.1 million, a 2.2 percent increase, thanks to rising terminal rents, concessions and other revenues. Operating expenses rose $24.1 million or 5.4 percent  because of rising personnel and contracting costs. 

The number of passenger “enplanements” rose to 33.29 million. United Airlines led the way, with an increase from 7.4 million boardings in 2012 to 8.3 million last year. 

■ Midway operating revenues rose by 11 percent or $17.4 million, more than double the $6.8 million increase in operating expenses. The number of “enplaned passengers” at Midway was 10.26 million, up from 9.77 million the year before.

■ The condition of Chicago’s four city employee pension funds is growing ever more precarious. The firefighters pension fund has assets to cover just 24 percent of liabilities, followed by: Police (30 percent); Municipal Employees (37 percent) and Laborers (57 percent). 

■ Chicago’s historical collections and works of art are valued at $17 million, up from $13.2 million last year, thanks to the Crown Fountain “given” to Millennium Park. 

■ Chicago’s principal private employers were: J.P. Morgan Chase (8,499); United Airlines (8,199); Accenture LLP (5,821); Northern Trust (5,353); Ford Motor Co. (5,103)  Jewel Foods (4,441); ABM Janitorial Services (3,399); Bank of America (3,392); Walgreens (2,869) and American Airlines (2,749).

The 2013 city payroll was 33,563, down from 33,708 in 2012 and 40,297 in 2006. The number of public safety employees was 21,068. That’s down from 23,397 in 2007. 

By July 31, Emanuel must release a preliminary city budget. It’s almost certain to include another sizeable deficit. 

The mayor has already ruled out a pre-election property tax increase. He plans to cover mandatory increases in the city’s contribution to the Municipal Employees and Laborers pension funds with a 56 percent increase in the monthly surcharge tacked on to telephone bills, both land lines and cellphones.

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