Aurora looks to trim city budget in 2014
By Stephanie Lulay firstname.lastname@example.org December 7, 2013 3:32PM
Updated: January 10, 2014 6:22AM
AURORA — In an effort to keep costs down, the city’s proposed 2014 budget cuts spending from last year.
Under the proposed $362 million budget, spending would decrease by about 1.8 percent from the 2013 budget, according to city Finance Director Brian Caputo. The city spent about $369 million in 2013, according to budget figures.
Again, the city attempted to hold the line on spending across every department, said City Chief of Staff Carie Anne Ergo.
“We know what (residents’) financial situations are like,” Ergo said. “This is one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression and we’re really trying to minimize the dollars we’re asking from taxpayers.”
The city plans to increase the number of full-time workers by one over 2013 levels. Staff raises will generally be capped at 1 to 2 percent in 2014, according to Caputo.
In an effort to cut spending despite rising pension costs, the proposed 2014 budget looks to invest in new technology practices that enable city departments to run more efficiently.
In the past few years, the city has sought grant dollars to fund necessary bridge and road projects and has worked to transition employees to a new health insurance plan, saving the city millions, according to Caputo. In a rebounding economy, the city also aims to secure the most competitive bids, he said.
“We’ve gotten really creative and aggressive on our contracts,” Ergo said.
Aldermen are slated vote on the 2014 budget at City Council Dec. 10 and the 2014 tax levy Dec. 17, according to Finance Chairman Bob O’Connor, At-large alderman.
Cops and fire
The city’s police and fire departments will add more technology and tools under the proposed 2014 budget.
The police department will add a new mobile traffic reporting program, which aims to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes an officer to complete a traffic stop. Currently, cops operate on a paper triplicate copy system, according to Ergo. The city has budgeted $37,500 to purchase the system.
In an effort to cut down on time police spend submitting and reviewing evidence, cops will implement a new $76,000 automated evidence management system.
Under the 2014 budget, the police will also purchase a $52,800 license plate reader system.
City ambulances will be outfitted with 11 mobile computer tablets at a cost of $39,000, which will allow for faster reporting.
In 2014, the city will also begin a multi-year process to replace the city’s enterprise resource platform, allowing the city’s public safety and public administration departments to share data. The total cost of replacing the system, split over the next few years, will be $6.7 million, according to Caputo.
The current systems were installed in the early 1990s and have been consistently upgraded, but have several limitations.
“As we look for ways to make municipal government more efficient, technology is the key,” Ergo said.
In 2013, the city budgeted for the police department to spend $260,000 on a four-dog canine unit and costs associated with the unit. The program did not get off the ground in 2013, but Police Chief Greg Thomas said the department plans to implement the canine unit this year.
The fire department will replace two fire engines and an ambulance at a cost of $1.1 million next year.
Twenty police vehicles will be replaced in 2014 at a cost of $641,000.
The city will also spend $130,000 in 2014 to replace the roof at the Central Fire Station.
The city also proposed in the 2014 budget:
$8.4 million to resurface 59 miles of city streets
$3.8 million to buy land along Farnsworth Avenue
$2.5 million to rehab sewer lines
$1.7 million toward a multi-year combined sewer separation project
$1.1 million toward shared cost of linking Liberty Street and Meridian Lake Drive on the city’s Far East Side, a multi-year project
$700,000 to replace hazardous sidewalks and address other right-of-way issues
$680,000 to replace two bridges over the Fox River at Indian Trail, a multi-year project; the state is picking up 80 percent of the $8 million project’s tab
$380,000 toward the construction of the RiverEdge Park Pedestrian bridge across the Fox River
$375,000 for acquisition of a new East Side Community Center on LaSalle Street, a mix of city and federal funds
$250,000 to demolish abandoned buildings
$200,000 toward GAR interior restoration
$150,000 to support development of student employer engagement activities, a response to the Aurora Regional Pathways to Prosperity Project
$150,000 for roll out of the city’s rebranding initiatives; Aurora also plans to revamp the city’s website next year
$100,000 to install a new HVAC system in City Hall
$45,000 to purchase a digital audio recording system in the city’s three meeting rooms, including City Council Chambers. “We’re researching the possibility of streaming (meetings),” Ergo said.
After cutting 185 employees during the roughest part of the recession, the city now aims to realign some departments in 2014 in an effort to provide better customer service to residents.
The staff decrease meant that some departments were responsible for too many services, Ergo said.
“That wasn’t immediately apparent,” Ergo said. “There was some additional support and leadership necessary in those areas.”
In 2014, the city’s Operations and Development departments will be realigned into four smaller groups: the Department of Public Properties, the Department of Neighborhood Standards, the Development Services Department and the Department of Public Works.
The Department of Public Properties, headed by Rosario DeLeon, will be responsible for three divisions: Parks and Recreation, which includes the Phillips Park Zoo and municipal golf courses; Maintenance Services and Street Maintenance. DeLeon is currently the city’s chief operations officer.
The Department of Neighborhood Standards, headed by Jim Pilmer, will be responsible for three divisions: Property Standards; Central Services, which includes city-owned buildings; and Animal Control. Pilmer rejoined the city in 2013 as head of the city’s Property Standards Division.
The Department of Development Services, headed by Bill Wiet, will be responsible for the Aurora Municipal Airport, Building and Permits and Planning and Zoning. As chief development officer, Wiet will continue to work closely with Seize the Future, the non-profit tasked with spurring economic development in the city.
The Department of Public Works, headed by City Engineer Ken Schroth, will be responsible for four divisions: Engineering, Electrical Maintenance, Water Production and Water and Sewer Maintenance.
Additionally, the City Clerk’s office will be realigned under Administrative Services, which is led by Alex Alexandrou.
The city’s total tax levy is expected to increase by about 0.5 percent, according to Caputo. The slight increase can be attributed to rising pension costs, he said.
“It is nearly flat,” Caputo said.
Ergo said the pension legislation reform that recently passed in the state legislature didn’t touch police and fire pensions. The general fund portion of the city’s levy decreased.
“To decrease the operating part of the budget means that there’s an incredible amount of belt-tightening that’s going on,” Caputo said. “It’s not easy, we’re looking for efficiencies at every turn to make this work.”
In 2013, the city’s total city tax levy, which included the library tax levy, increased by 2.3 percent. The slight increase was attributed to a higher levy by the library to pay for the building of a new main library downtown and rising pension costs.
Aurora’s proposed 2014 budget is available online at www.aurora-il.org/finance/budget.