A look at the county’s nursing center renovation project, and what it might mean

I have a dark red brick on my mantel that came from the old DeKalb County Home, now known as DeKalb County Nursing and Rehabilition Center (DCNRC). On one side of the brick is a sketch of the Home, on another a short history of the facility in dates and names.

The brick tells me that DCRNC’s previous location on Sycamore Road was demolished in the year 2000, which means it has taken the county more than 15 years to bring to light chronic logistical issues at the “new” place that create congested hallways and risk cold food.

I asked myself, “Why now?” And this is where I landed:

Also planned is an addition to the north of the existing structure, adding 18 single-occupancy rooms. These rooms will be the Medicare rooms, but also help the facility keep up with the times.

Presenting the addition as almost an afterthought to a primary mission of logistical remediation is hilarious to me. It’s actually much more likely that the desire for the addition kicked off the project. Because money. Continue reading A look at the county’s nursing center renovation project, and what it might mean

Shooting oneself in the foot at the DeKalb airport

We’ve been talking about fuel sales at DeKalb’s airport recently.

This was in the context of DeKalb’s new marketing practice of deeply discounting fuel in order to bring in new customers, and perhaps reaching at some point the same successful level of sales of 2013, the good old days when net sales more than covered the wages of the airport line service technicians.

DeKalb residents, who have been waiting for generations for the airport to pay its own freight, are interested in this subject. For one thing, word is getting out that the city redirected some $260,000 in local motor fuel taxes into the airport budget to help erase its invariable red ink. We’d rather that revenue go toward street maintenance.

People also are unsure that city government should plan for a loss of public money in a gamble. DeKalb is prepared to lose up to $20,000 a year. A loss leader gambit should remain in the realm of private business, the reasoning goes.

There’s a real head-scratcher among these developments as well. During the November 16 budget meeting, where department/division heads proposed cuts to their respective budgets, the list for the airport included cutting line service hours from 10 to 8 hours a day to reduce labor expenses by $19,000.

Got that? The airport is supposedly going “all out” to gain customers by discounting fuel to the point of enduring a $20,000 annual loss, but then proposes to cut the operational hours for providing that fuel.

OPEB: DeKalb’s unfunded liability you’ve probably never heard of

***Updated 12/21, via asterisk, to clarify what’s going on with the fiscal 2016.5 numbers in the narrative, and why these numbers are not in the chart. FYI, the post is probably also easier to read if you distinguish between plan retirees (who are participants and beneficiaries), beneficiaries (who may be retirees or spouses/dependents of retirees), and participants (who may be active employees, retirees, or beneficiaries who are neither).***

I don’t generally gush over DeKalb’s choices of consultants, but I believe EPI was worth every penny – both times – because of their plain talk about our financial situation and the state of city operations.

Too bad DeKalb didn’t take some important advice.

One of the harsh realities was and is the OPEB, which stands for Other Post-Employment Benefits. OPEB is a defined-benefit, comprehensive health insurance plan for City of DeKalb retirees who participate in a pension plan (i.e., full-timers who meet years-of-service requirements). Compared with the pension plans, OPEB is not very highly regulated. There’s no trust fund established, and since the city doesn’t have to pay more than a required annual contribution, it doesn’t. There are no reserves for the future.

This was the picture when EPI came on the scene in 2009:

• Depending on the retirement age of the labor contract/pay plan that applied, some city workers qualified for benefits as early as age 50.
• Employees did not contribute to the OPEB until retirement.
• OPEB covered the retiree for life.
• Some plans had spousal and/or dependent benefits.
• The city at that time was paying approximately 87% of the premium for each retiree.
• DeKalb’s contribution as sole employer of the plan came to about $1 million per year.
• The unfunded liability reported for fiscal 2008 was $29.4 million, which was more than the liability for any city pension fund at the time. Continue reading OPEB: DeKalb’s unfunded liability you’ve probably never heard of

A fresh look at “old” financial advice for DeKalb

At a recent budget meeting, DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura (AMG) stated that she references the “EPI reports” frequently in financial planning.

Because the city’s finance advisory committee might likewise like to revisit EPI findings when it (the committee) reconvenes in 2018, I’d like to introduce EPI to our newer readers (and help refresh memories).

EPI stands for Executive Partners, Inc., which is the former name of an organization of financial consultants who, in 2009 and 2013, tried to help DeKalb think more strategically about its finances.

Here’s EPI’s Larry Kujovich in the spring of 2013, talking about DeKalb’s gigantic financial hole.


Continue reading A fresh look at “old” financial advice for DeKalb

Raise local fuel taxes? There are other moves DeKalb should make first

Does a drive around DeKalb feel like you’re continually crossing rough train tracks even where there aren’t any? Guess why.

street maintenance all expenditures

The above are actual expenditures for street maintenance. Shown are total expenditures from two primary sources for maintenance, the motor fuel tax (MFT) revenues that are shared with us by the state on a per capita basis, and local (aka “home rule”) fuel taxes.

From the chart above, it looks like MFT revenues are failing — as if we’re in recession again now. While these revenues are somewhat stagnant, the much larger problem is that the city has gotten into the habit of spending these funds on other stuff.

It’s legal, but obviously a terrible idea. City council needs to fix it before it considers a current proposal to hike the local MFT by two cents. Continue reading Raise local fuel taxes? There are other moves DeKalb should make first

DeKalb’s airport fuel sales were better in 2013

City of DeKalb is extremely happy with airport fuel sales over the past few months, and according to the 2018 draft budget is estimating $416,000 in gross fuel sales for 2017.

However, the recent increase is due to deep discounting of fuel, and fuel sales were better in previous years.

Airport fuel sale data

The airport in DeKalb began selling fuel in FY11. I’m tracking FY12 through FY16 because the data are complete and actual (not projections or other estimates).

DeKalb actually peaked in fuel sales in FY13. After that they continued to lose ground, to the point where net sales were (are?) no longer covering the wages of the part-time employees who dispense the fuel.

I really don’t want to be a negative nelly. DeKalb has been sending some $270,000 of local motor fuel taxes to the airport for the last couple years; I’d like to see that money returned for allocation to street repairs and improvements, and that means I’m pulling for the airport to become self-sustaining.

But can that happen if we don’t understand the reason(s) for the loss of ground since 2013? What happens when the current discounts end?

Sorry, Mayor Smith. DeKalb’s city attorney works for the city manager, not you

Sometime during the six-hour-long regular city council meeting last Monday, the mayor asserted that the city attorney works for the city council. This is incorrect information, and the real story must be understood NOW to help people understand why the city might have just placed potential litigation with the county on the table.

Exhibit A: DeKalb’s organizational chart (from the proposed fiscal 2018 budget).

If the city attorney worked for city council, he’d show up in a relationship to city council. But he doesn’t. The city attorney is a contractor who — as all contractors do at this point — work for city manager Anne Marie Gaura. And let me tell you, it’s a very close working relationship. Continue reading Sorry, Mayor Smith. DeKalb’s city attorney works for the city manager, not you

Reasons to allow the city manager’s contract to expire

City council is expected to vote tonight on a resolution to “amend” city manager Anne Marie Gaura’s employment agreement, which currently expires at the end of this year.

My main concern with the vote itself is that it involves the removal of the expiration date from the contract, even though the DeKalb Municipal Code says the city manager “shall serve and hold office for a term of office specified by virtue of an employment agreement.” For this reason alone, I urge a “no” vote on the resolution.

But there are performance issues as well. Here are some of the major ones, in my opinion.

1. Failure to cooperate with, and render assistance to, elected officials. These are responsibilities required by the Municipal Code (3.08(b)). Yet Gaura deprived city clerk Liz Cliffe Peerboom of the basic tools of the job, including a desk and computer. She has also failed to comply with city council members’ requests for financial information, and brazenly ignored a residency requirement in recruiting an IT director.

2. Inability to produce a budget that covers the basics. Gaura has presented budgets that always include new hires to her inner circle at the expense of other needs. Our five-year outlook is so grim that finance advisory committee members have pledged to keep working on the fiscal 2018 budget into fiscal 2018, in order to try to make adjustments that will nudge the trajectory into more solvent territory. DeKalb has also struggled with deficiencies in internal accounting controls during Gaura’s tenure, according to the city’s auditors.

3. Damaged relations with residents, business people, and even another unit of local government. In a series of unforced errors, Gaura has had to walk back actions that took the community by surprise. The unlawful assembly and commercial inspection ordinances, for example, popped up on council agendas without previous community discussion and caused a great deal of dismay and distrust, not to mention the resources wasted in having to go back to the drawing board.

4. Inability or unwillingness to rein in staff. Gaura’s failure to set boundaries with her administrative team has allowed a range of unprofessional behavior, from the city attorney’s inappropriate participation in policy discussions, to the FOIA officer’s calling citizens liars with impunity. Staff do not even pretend at professional objectivity anymore, but rather have become a sales team for pet projects. They engage in hard-sell tactics and sometimes lie to get their way.

We can do better, DeKalb.

Feel free to join City Barbs on Facebook with your two cents.

DeKalb’s failure to fund capital projects looks familiar

Mulling over our current the lack of funding of capital projects and fleet needs, I ended up deciding to contrast the spending from three different time periods, as expressed by transfers (or in the case of 2018, expected transfers) out of the General Fund into the Capital Projects and Fleet funds. I’ve also placed rough estimates of average numbers of employees using full-time equivalents (FTEs).

Time period: fiscal years 2007 through 2010
Transfers to Capital Projects and Fleet: $521,500
Average number of city employees: 241

Time period: fiscal 2012 through 2014
Transfers to Capital Projects and Fleet: $1,768,191
Average number of city employees: 205

Time period: fiscal years 2015 through 2018
Transfers to Capital Projects and Fleet: $522,803
Average number of city employees: 230

Clearly, we’ve been here before — riding the edge of the cliff, I mean.

Handling of DeKalb city manager’s contract renewal is an ugly bit of manipulation — and inconsistent with the ordinance as well

Anne Marie Gaura’s employment agreement with City of DeKalb expires at the end of 2017. That is, it expires unless a resolution presented as a contract “amendment” gets passed by city council on Monday.

They’ve placed the item as a resolution to amend the employment agreement on Monday’s council meeting agenda. But it is not just an amendment to DeKalb’s contract with Anne Marie Gaura. It is a renewal, because the amendment removes the expiration date from the contract.

And removal of the expiration date clearly goes against Chapter 3 of the DeKalb Municipal Code, which says this:

Appointment and Removal. The City Manager shall be appointed by the Mayor and Council voting jointly. The City Manager shall serve and hold office for a term of office specified by virtue of an employment agreement.

If you believe the people of DeKalb deserve an up-or-down vote on a contract renewal that includes the legally mandated term of office, please share your views with council members.