City of DeKalb’s use of administrative tow fees brings up lots of questions, such as how many of these off-budget accounts the city has and whether their collective use rises to the title of “shadow budget.”
I don’t have the answers to the above questions, but I do know that even off-budget transactions are included in the invoice payment listings, aka check register. And thanks to the new account coding, you can usually easily tell what type of account each purchase is charged to, should this be of interest to you.
Find monthly check registers at the city’s website on the Finance Department page, under the Expenditures tab.
Beginning in 2013, each purchase contains a 13-digit account code that tells you which account it was charged to. For example, on p. 7 of the February 2014 check register are listed a half-dozen transactions for car repairs involving replacement parts. Here are the account numbers for four of them:
To start making them more useful to us, we can break them up a bit:
And then, to translate the now-separated and meaningful numbers from left to right:
01-30-33-200-8226 = General Fund, Public Works Department, Streets Division, Commodities Expense Category, Vehicle Maintenance Parts Charge Account.
60-00-00-200-8226 = Water Fund (no special coding for dept or division because Water is Water in all things), Commodities Expense Category, Vehicle Maintenance Parts Charge Account.
01-20-22-200-8226 = General Fund, Police Department, Patrol Division, Commodities Expense Category, Vehicle Maintenance Parts Charge Account.
01-00-00-000-2715 = General Fund, Administrative Tow Account. That’s it. Luckily, the item description included “PD” so we at least we know which department made the purchase.
Take any of the first three account numbers above, match it to a number in the annual city budget and at the end of the fiscal year you can check the total spent — but the same is not true of Tow. We know that PD has spent $300,000 over and above its budget using Tow, but only because the Chronicle took special efforts to figure it out and tell us. This is neither transparent nor accountable to John and Joan Q., no matter what city officials say.
Anyway, below are a couple pages of documents I’ve obtained. The first one is a page from the November 2013 check register and shows how weird it was getting: the same types of items are sometimes coded against budget accounts, sometimes not. Click it once or twice to get it the size you want (watching for magnifier icon in lower right hand corner).
And if you come across expenditures charged to other “2700” accounts, you can look up what they’re for here: