DeKalb’s $10 Million Budget Hole

I’ve had a preliminary look at DeKalb’s FY17 budget.

The proposed operations (General Fund) budget, which begins in January, has $2.8 million in additional spending for personnel alone when compared to the FY16 budget that ended June 30. (I am ignoring the current six-month “FY16.5” budget at this time.) Biggest jumps:

$743,000 more in regular wages
$485,000 more for health insurance
$1,712,600 more for police and fire pensions

Total operations spending from the General Fund (GF) is projected to be up $3.3 million as compared to revenues, which are expected to increase by only $2.5 million.

How are they bridging the gap? I’ve spotted three ways so far:

1. Staff have decided to ignore the promise to “wean” themselves off of nearly $800,000 in administrative transfers from the TIF funds to GF. They are supposed to decrease dependence on these transfers, which will begin to expire in a couple years. It’s not happening, but that revenue will need to be replaced just the same.

2. They are transferring money to the GF from five other funds, the sum of which comes to $436,000. That would be fine, except these same funds have projected budget deficits totaling $1.7 million. The transfers to the GF are necessary for creating an apparent “surplus” there of $485,000.

3. They are cutting the usual amounts of annual transfers out of the GF. Those transfers have dropped by $1 million since FY15; the only significant planned transfers out are $1.5 million for debt service, and $215,000 for the airport to eliminate its operating deficit. Transfers out used to total $2.5 million and include money for equipment, capital projects, and fleet funds.

In other words, the city must figure out how to make up about $3.5 million in revenues ASAP, in order not to be caught short when the TIFs expire and the fleet breaks down. Add in the street maintenance program, estimated to require $6.5 million annually but for now deferred, and in terms of DeKalb’s growing inability to fulfill its obligations to its people, we have a $10 million budget hole.

The main problem arises from the city’s three-year hiring spree of 10 new employees a year. It’s unsustainable. This workforce needs to be drastically trimmed if city government is to have enough money to take care of basic needs like roads.

They can either talk about how to do it now, or be forced to it in a year or two; and if city manager Anne Marie Gaura and her minions aren’t up to the conversation, they need to go.

Related: DeKalb City Council considers 10.8 percent tax levy increase
Sources: City of DeKalb Budgets and Annual Financial Reports