Notes & More from 8/10/2009 Council Meeting

When people say, “I am not making this up,” as the public works director did last night in explaining the lack of competitive bids for waste pickup, I begin to wonder about the occasions when they don’t say it. You?


Mayor Povlsen is still calling comments he disagrees with “misinformation” based on a continued presumption of residents’ ignorance of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Here is a challenge. I’ll put together a quiz team of eight citizens from last night’s audience to compete with City Council in an exercise to test TIF knowledge. We could call it the TIF Olympics. Let’s hold it on Halloween — I think the results would be pretty scary from the residents’ point of view, if Mr. Baker’s confession is any indication.

So the city’s share of the $321,800 pass-through would be .06 or $19,308. Someone reminded us last night in a post-meeting chat [H/T to UNK!] that the city’s property tax only goes toward pensions. It is clear that City of DeKalb TIFs cheat the pension funds. During the budget hearings for FY2009 I asked Mr. Biernacki how much the TIF districts generate each year. Answer: between $5-6 million. (Iirc this was before the new baseline on the “renewed” Central TIF was calculated, so keep in mind the numbers may be different now.) Let’s go with the $5 million figure. It means $300,000 per year has been diverted from pension funds that already are woefully underfunded. Granted, they are underfunded for a number of reasons (pp. 154-6); but if the Police Pension Fund is only funded — at best — at 64.4% and the Fire Pension Fund — again at best — at 46.2%, I believe it is just plain wrong not to ask how $300,000 per year might change the picture.

Re:New DeKalb has spent $5.5 million in the past few, and is set to spend a few million more. Pro-Re:New people, including our Council, have bought into the notion that pavers and pocket parks and pass-throughs are ultimately going to raise EAVs in the downtown area so much that the east and south sides will be magically transformed, new police and fire stations will be built, public safety staffing problems will disappear and the new high school will be paid off easy as pie.

Meanwhile — because the long-term Re:New view of the downtown effect is so, so rosy — we are asked to put up with the shame of our east corridor, the continued deterioration of the south side, underfunded pensions, and undermanned and overcrowded first responder forces.

For how long? When they take their eyes off the prize, and continue, for example, to send TIF money to Sycamore Road, it is disrespectful to the neighborhoods having to abide neglected streets and sidewalks year after year on the basis of the dream.

No, really, for how long? With the removal of a fire engine from Station 2, it’s clear we need to put a deadline on the promises.

Or maybe, it’s time to talk about dissolving the TIFs.


Alderman Gallagher, 4th Ward, was incorrect in saying that the EPI report “directed” a citywide wage freeze. (Video here.) The wage freeze is a recommendation (p. 184); granted, it’s the #1 recommendation but the report notes that the city was “already considering” the move, which puts into question whether EPI would have made the recommendation otherwise.

Nevertheless, I will be glad to classify the wage freeze as a directive if Mr. Gallagher also treats the #2 recommendation, “Stop the post retirement healthcare immediately for new retirees and phase out for existing retirees,” as a directive. That seems fair.

The 4th Ward alderman seemed distressed about the flyer distributed by the firefighters’ union last weekend, which informed south side residents of the removal of the fire engine from Station 2. Gallagher called it “propaganda” and insisted Station 2 had not been closed. His statement is disingenuous. I received one of the flyers and nowhere did it claim that Station 2 was closed. That the level of fire protection has been reduced by the removal of the only fire engine south of the train tracks is an eminently reasonable conclusion. That the city tried to hide a reduction in basic services is apparent. No amount of scapegoating the firefighters over the city’s failed schemes will change how people feel about these realities.


Update: More videos of last night’s Council meeting and more are here.