DeKalb’s Budgetary Reserves Do Not Mean What You Think They Mean

The City of DeKalb has been re-growing its post-recession General Fund reserve since FY2011, when a large reduction in force coupled with windfall revenues helped the city regain its financial footing. But are annual budget surpluses an indicator we’ve set out upon the right financial path? The latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) is now available, so let’s see if we can spot the trends.

[easychart type=”vertbar” width=”420″ title=”General Fund Year End Balances in Millions” groupnames=”General Fund Ending Balances” valuenames=”’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’13” group1values=”3.26, 3.59, 3.83, 3.30, 2.90, 0.05, 0.022, 2.69, 4.67, 3.25″]
The years represented in the above chart are the fiscal years, each of which runs July 1 through June 30.

The reserve looks pretty good now, but I believe it has given city leaders the wrong idea. Continue reading DeKalb’s Budgetary Reserves Do Not Mean What You Think They Mean

NIU Enrollment by Campus — Er, Mostly

When we talk about NIU enrollment we are usually referring to the enrollment at all four campuses, which is the number NIU must report to the state.

With a drop of 4.9% as we had this year, a lot of questions come up. Hypothetically speaking, what if DeKalb had lost 10% but nobody knew because growth at other campuses made up for it?

I requested a more detailed breakdown under the Freedom of Information Act and was denied. During the subsequent review by the Public Access Counselor of the denial, however, counsel for NIU offered these numbers:

[table id=66 /]

“Other/Multiple Locations” means there are about 2,000 students who attend classes on more than one campus, and for whatever reason NIU assigns them to none. Leaving room for speculation is not ideal, but this is more information than we had before so to me it was worth the effort.

Did the DeKalb County Board Violate the Open Meetings Act?

The new state’s attorney for the county is “reviewing” the following incident:

Election of the chairman was listed on the County Board’s public agenda.

Members, wanting to discuss the contentious subject of who should chair the board after a prearranged agreement fell apart during public discussion at the meeting, first suggested going into recess and heading to separate meeting rooms[…]

Schmack advised the board such a move would be in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Then, County Board members suggested standing at ease to allow an ad-hoc committee to meet, which Schmack also advised against. During the roughly 15-minute ordeal in the public portion of the meeting, board members Paul Stoddard, D-DeKalb, and Charles Foster, R-Shabbona, were in off-microphone discussions with each other.

The board eventually voted to stand at ease and divided into two groups to talk about who they wanted to elect.

The Illinois Senate goes “at ease” sometimes. Here’s an example (PDF p. 29).

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, the hour of 9:20 standard Senate time having arrived, the Committee on Assignments will meet immediately in the President’s Anteroom. Will all the members of the Committee on Assignments please report to the President’s Anteroom immediately? The Senate stands at ease. (at ease)

Here’s another example (see 11:48 update). Clearly, members who are “at ease” are waiting around for the official meeting to reconvene. They are not conducting the people’s business.

Keep in mind as well: not all provisions of the Open Meetings Act apply to the bodies of the General Assembly as they do to local units of Illinois government.

I believe a violation of the OMA probably did occur.

Furthermore, the thrashing about for a loophole when their partisan machinations fell apart does not speak well for either party.

Rockford Working Its Way to Landlord Registration Program

It’s registration without tons of new staff or inspection ordinances of dubious constitutionality.

Right now, the only thing between the city and a new landlord registry is the right software, said Paul Arena, president of the Rockford Apartment Association.

The property managers want the database to link to the city’s police and code enforcement reporting tools so they can receive an e-mail when something happens at one of their properties.

Arena said he’s confident that it can be done through a program that won’t put additional demands on city staff.

Let’s compare in our signature DeKalb-centric way.

The City of DeKalb put together what observers can now conclude was supposed to be a puppet task force to promote its rental inspection ambitions. The task force ended up not being a puppet, thereby forcing the administration to a) try an end run around its work by contracting with rental inspection “experts,” b) introduce (and re-introduce) and advocate its own ordinances at council though they ran counter to task force recommendations, and c) ensure victory by waiting until a key council member went on vacation to hold the final vote.

The City of Rockford negotiated directly — and, it appears, sometimes fiercely — with its landlords, and will soon bring to its council an ordinance that has the support of both parties.

Which city would you rather deal with?

Related: Licensing & Inspection Program Could Help Turn a TIF Blueprint into Reality

DeKalb’s IMRF Contributions and Their Budget Impacts

Putting together DeKalb’s pension picture has been like a forestry hide-and-seek. Facts are the trees and while facts have been examined, there’s often an underlying feeling that the ecosystem has not yet been adequately described. So I keep going back in.

One “specimen” whose significance I failed to fully appreciate earlier is the shortfall between what is collected in city property taxes and the annual required contributions to the three pension funds. Unlike the State of Illinois, DeKalb faithfully makes yearly contributions; and if the property taxes don’t cover them, the city must free up additional revenues from the General Fund.

So far, such shortages appear to have fallen exclusively on IMRF and below is a piece of that picture.

[table id=65 /]
Continue reading DeKalb’s IMRF Contributions and Their Budget Impacts