Audits of Chicago budget reveal behind the scenes information about the city

In addition to illustrating Chicago’s difficult financial situation, the 2012 budget audits also contain other interesting information about the city. Here are a few examples with some quick commentary:

The number of “physical arrests” by Chicago Police officers declined again — from 152,740 in 2011 to 145,390 in 2012. That continues a six-year trend that coincides with the hiring slowdown that caused a dramatic decline in the number of police officers. Police made 227,576 arrests in 2006. The number of arrests has been dropping like a rock ever since.

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

Despite the negative media attention about crime in Chicago, arrests are down. So what has happened: less crimes are being committed? Chicago police have adopted different strategies?

Daily refuse collections declined from 3,983 tons in 2011 year ago to 3,763 in 2012. Last year’s 52-ton increase had reversed a five-year trend. The amount of garbage generated by the 600,000 Chicago households was 4,451 tons a day in 2006 to 4,240 in 2008.

Thanks to last year’s record heat and drought conditions, average daily water consumption rose by 23 million gallons — to 793 million gallons — reversing a steady decline. 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 $122.1 million or 29.6 percent, thanks to Emanuel’s 25 percent increase in water rates.

Interesting contrast: less garbage but more water usage. This highlights the behind the scenes stuff that is essential to city life but doesn’t receive much attention (unlike crime). Over 3,700 tons of garbage a day! Where does it all go?

Chicago’s 165 tax-increment-financing districts had a collective balance of $1.5 billion. Most of that money is uncommitted, fueling an aldermanic demand Emanuel has rejected: to declare a TIF surplus and use the money to reduce some of the 3,000 layoffs at Chicago Public Schools.

TIFs are intended to collect money to help encourage new development. If there is such a surplus in the TIF funds, why aren’t they being used for development?

Chicago’s principal private employers were: J.P. Morgan Chase (8,168 workers); United Airlines (7,521); Accenture LLP (5,590); Northern Trust (5,448); Jewel Foods (4,572) and Ford Motor Co. (4,187). The 2012 city payroll was 33,708 — down from 40,297 in 2006.

An interesting list of companies – I was surprised by Chase leading the way and Ford so high on the list.

There are other interesting pieces of these audits including revenues and passengers at the two airports as well as the value of the city’s historical and art collection (if this figure is correct, nothing near what the city of Detroit controls). Such information not only hints at how the city really works but also provides helpful financial indicators for assessing the current state and future direction of the city.