The Absurdity of the Airport, & Other Budget Tales

Tonight at the budget workshop I remarked that it was kind of nonsensical and backwards (exact words) to continue to carry this albatross of an airport (paraphrase) when the police department does not have adequate facilities. Later in the evening, I was rebutted with a pretty picture presented by Public Works Director Rick Monas of DeKalb-Taylor Municipal Airport’s (DTMA) “turning the corner” to self-sufficiency. Oh, and by the way, the $1.1 million deficit is fake. They have to budget out for projects in hopes that the state will suddenly start coughing up their share (har) but if it doesn’t (duh), we don’t actually spend it. The “real” deficit is “only” $230,000. And to top it off, Rep. Foster just earmarked $2.5 million for DTMA.

I send out hat-tips to two other members of the audience tonight. One told me that he’s heard the “turning the corner” turn of phrase before–20 years ago. The other pointed out the absurdity of trying to pretend that almost every penny for the airport doesn’t come from us one way or another. Join me on the flipside for the rest.

OK, let’s see. First here’s the link to the proposed budget. The airport stuff starts on page 85.

Here’s my list of airport absurdities. See if I’ve missed anything:

1) City employees keep using that “either-or” frame like they did at the beginning of the budget crisis when they presented the solutions as either tax hikes or layoffs when we know darn well there are other options, like salary cuts. With the airport, it’s: either DeKalb runs the airport or there is no airport, all the while pointing out that some of our corporate business wouldn’t have come to town without it. Apparently they haven’t heard of privately-owned airports.

2) They keep acting like all the grant money we get that keeps the deficit to $230,000 (actually more; see #3) isn’t our tax money. Sure, we like to bring home our federal and state tax dollars when we can but we should surely have a say in whether we want to be in the airport business, especially considering it’s not one of the primary functions of a city.

3) The $230,000 is the only discernable deficit in the airport budget because two employees, one from the Water Division and one from Streets, are charged off to those divisions of Public Works. Among other things, this means the water bill is also helping to pay for the airport.

4) It was announced that Rep. Bill Foster has earmarked $2.5 million for the airport thanks to the Daley Group. So, we used an intermediary costing us $60,000 per year plus expenses (soon to be $72,000 per year plus expenses), to meet with a congressman who wants our vote so badly in November that he’s made himself super-accessable and will help wherever he’s able. Please, tell me who couldn’t have achieved this.

In other news, we have no money for capital projects outside of TIF, motor fuel tax, CDBG and one other fund which name escaped my ears. Plus, the city manager said that the city’s outstanding debt is “only” $34 million, the lowest since 1990. Translation: “We have chosen to starve the capital fund in favor of raises and Cadillac health insurance because we think we have a green light to go into debt for that other stuff.”

Speaking of infrastructure needs, another absurdity in my mind is for Council to approve the transfer of $525,000 from the Water Division to the General Fund as planned, when the Division has water mains to replace and a water tower to fix. Do two water billing clerks and Rick Monas’ salary require $525,000? Maybe we can find out at the special meeting on Tuesday, same time, same channel.