More than one million dollars of so-called Aldermanic menu money went unallocated between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, according to an Aldertrack analysis of the annual appropriation aldermen get for capital improvement projects in their wards. And a significant portion of the unspent pot of public money, $832,291, was left behind in the last fiscal year, ending December 31, 2014. In the 5th Ward there was still $127,709 of menu money left over. In the 4th Ward, $181,107 remained unallocated. And in the 31st Ward, $88,228 was left unused in FY 2014.
Every year each aldermen is allocated $1.32 million dollars to spend on local infrastructure projects, most of which is used for street repairs, sidewalk fixes, alleys, gutter improvements and streetlight repairs. Using data obtained through city websites and Freedom of Information Act requests, Aldertrack learned that between 2010 and 2014, Aldermen designated $243,920,941 towards Department of Transportation related improvements and $63,998,077 for new streetlights and upgrades of existing light poles.
In order to decide where to spend the funds, Aldermen are provided with a list of pre-approved projects and cost estimates, a “menu”, which can change from year-to-year. For example, the Street Resurfacing Program costs $38,000 for the first 5 blocks. In 2010 it cost $62,500 per block under the sidewalk replacement program, now it costs an average of $75,000 per block.
In the 2012 budget Mayor Rahm Emanuel made changes to the menu program, saying he wanted to make it more “collaborative” and to “improve coordination and focus on the city’s most pressing infrastructure needs.” In order to make sure capital funds are directed to high priority improvements, Mayor Emanuel changed rules so that aldermen must program 80% of their menu money by June 30th and have the remaining 20% allocated before the end of the fiscal year. Rollover of unspent money would no longer be allowed.
But before shovels can hit the ground, each construction request is subject to approval by the corresponding department, in most cases is the Department of Transportation. DOT can decide to approve, modify or deny any aldermanic requests. This could explain the large pool of unspent money over the years.
Where The Money Went…
Besides general sidewalk and street fixes, there are also specialized menu options like bike lanes and surveillance cameras.
Only five wards put money towards bike related infrastructure projects over the last four years. The 46th Ward spent the most. In 2013, Ald. James Cappleman (46) spent $330,000 of 46th Ward Menu money on the Protected Bike Lane Program, which costs $125,000 per half mile to build a separate bike path with a barrier.
Between 2013 and 2014, Aldermen spent $148,512 on In-Street State Law Stop for Pedestrian Signs. At a cost of $550 for one sign and $950 for two signs, each ward paid an average of $3,229 for the signs of the last two years. The 43rd Ward bought the most signs, and in 2013, Ald. Michele Smith (43) spent approximately three times as much in signs ($21,900) than she did in 2014.
Aldermen also spent a lot of money on surveillance cameras. Under the City’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) Aldermanic Camera Program, Aldermen can request a universal high definition camera with wireless connectivity and real time stream to assist in targeting criminal activity on the public way. It costs $22,500 for a camera, up to three years of maintenance costs, and an additional $1,800 to move the camera to another location. The highest OEMC spending was in 2011 and 2010 with $1.2 million and $1.06 million spent on the POD cameras, respectively. In the 22nd Ward, Ald. Ricardo Munoz in 2011 spent $740,000 on POD cameras alone.