CHICAGO -- The City Colleges of Chicago’s proposed $657 million fiscal 2014 budget won the endorsement of the Civic Federation of Chicago for ongoing progress toward improving its fiscal and operational health.

“Under the leadership of Chancellor Cheryl Hyman and her team, City Colleges has consistently shown commendable fiscal restraint and a commitment to implementing strong financial management practices,” said Laurence Msall, president of the local government fiscal watchdog.

The group praised the system for holding the line on its property tax levy for the fourth consecutive year, reducing the unrestricted operating portion of the budget by 6.9% or $21 million, and negotiating a new agreement with labor to curb the rising personnel-related costs.

CCC also benefits from the maintenance of a strong fund balance for the last five years with its fiscal 2012 balance equal to 20% of expenses. The balance helps the district manage through chronic state aid payment delays.

The system is also incorporating into its expenditure forecasts the phased-in costs to cover a portion of employee pension benefits which are now covered by the state. The shift has been included in various state level pension reform proposals although no action has been taken and the legislative conference committee working on a new reform plan has not released a plan.

The federation’s new analysis of the budget also recommends the district formalize a comprehensive long-term financial plan.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Colleges officials earlier last year announced a $479 million, five-year capital program that relies on $274 million of future borrowing. The plan calls for investments at all seven of the system’s facilities, including a new $250 million Malcolm X College that would open in 2015.

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