OIG Releases Advisory Concerning Inequities in the Aldermanic Menu Program and Chicago’s Residential Street Infrastructure Management

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released an advisory following up on its 2017 audit of the Aldermanic Menu Program (“Menu”), which found that the City perpetuates significant inequities between wards and underfunds residential street infrastructure needs by approximately $228.8 million annually. The previous administration disagreed with our findings and declined to reform its residential street infrastructure management. Our report from earlier this week on the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Management of the Public Way also relates to Menu, and while we appreciate its political sensitivity, this issue is still not being discussed in a fashion that meets stakeholder and constituents’ needs.

Menu is the City’s primary means of funding residential street infrastructure, including street and alley resurfacing, lighting, speed humps, and sidewalk replacement. The City gives each alderman control of $1.32 million in Menu funds annually, regardless of ward size or the amount of infrastructure in need of rehabilitation. Consequently, wards with more miles of residential streets and alleys have a much lower percentage of their needs met. Based on pricing in the 2015 Menu and CDOT’s life cycle data, OIG estimated that the City’s residential infrastructure needs totaled $312.8 million annually. Menu, however, provides only $84.0 million per year, leaving a gap of approximately $228.8 million that must be pursued through other sources, such as tax increment financing, for basic residential infrastructure improvements.

Contrary to best practices for multi-year capital planning, CDOT does not perform comprehensive, long-term analysis to determine annual residential street infrastructure needs. Rather, the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) sets the budget at the level it determines the City can afford, without seeking input from CDOT on how much funding is required to meet citywide need. For at least the last twelve years, OBM has allocated $1.32 million annually to each ward. Due to the increasing cost of projects and this stagnant funding level, the actual buying power of Menu funds has declined substantially over time.

“This advisory speaks to the essence of OIG’s recent follow-up report on coordination and management of the public way; responsible, effective management of taxpayer dollars requires a comprehensive, long-term strategic approach to capital planning, especially as it relates to core infrastructure. While this report, like the public way follow-up, touches a third rail of local politics—the Aldermanic Menu Program—Chicago’s ever-mounting financial challenges make it even more urgent that the City adhere to fundamental principles of good governance,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “Today’s report brings into the mix an additional critical value: equity. The City’s management of residential street resurfacing is an infrastructure version of a “two Chicagos” trend that OIG sees increasingly in its examination of municipal services and programs. Neither this report nor the follow-up recommends abolishing the Menu Program; they simply challenge its status quo operation, which effectively makes it impossible for the City to manage core infrastructure in a cost-effective and equitable manner. We urge the new administration to examine the issues and recommendations raised, with fresh eyes, and to dedicate itself to reducing inequities in capital spending.”

The Residential Street Infrastructure Management Advisory can be found on OIG’s website.

The 2017 CDOT Aldermanic Menu Program Audit can be found at: bit.ly/CDOTMenu.

The CDOT Public Way Follow-Up Inquiry can be found at: bit.ly/PublicWayFollowUp.

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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.