5 issues ignored so far in City of DeKalb’s budget plans


Need for a finance director. DeKalb’s finance director left this year and it looks like there’s no plan to replace her. That’s too bad. Besides the risk of returning to subpar audits, a qualified finance director could fill in for the city manager if needed, which is particularly important since the assistant city manager’s position isn’t filled, either. If something happened to the city manager tomorrow, it’s likely the council would have to hire someone on contract at premium cost. This is a major failure in succession planning that invites needless disruption and expense.

Replacing grant revenues that have funded first responders. The city has yet to address how it will replace some $2 million in grant revenues that have been helping to cover costs of first responders for several years but expire in 2025.

Planning for reserves. Between several years of federal pandemic help and today’s high interest rates, DeKalb has been able to at least double its General Fund (GF) reserve from the required 25% of budgeted GF expenses to somewhere between 50-60%. As the GF budget is about $41 million, it means more than $10 million potentially available for other purposes. There are no proposals yet, so the time is ripe to lobby for doing something responsible with it, like catching up on street repairs and paying down the unfunded pension liability. Stay alert — you never know when people might want to memorialize themselves with a new city hall instead.

Jumps in required pension contributions. The city is procrastinating in dealing with accelerated pension costs accompanying the multiyear first responder hiring spree, allowing liabilities to grow dramatically. The unfunded liabilities will push past the $100 million mark next year, the equivalent of 85% of the $117 million in budgeted expenses across all city funds.

Hidden dependence on Water Operating Fund. DeKalb was dependent on at least $740,000 this year from Water Ops for general operations. This won’t change anytime soon, but meantime the city should improve transparency of the subsidy. There is a straightforward yearly transfer from Water Ops to the GF that’s currently $279,000, but the rest is charged to Water accounts directly, which hides the larger portion of the subsidy from public view. Additionally, several departmental budgets (HR, IT, Finance, et al) are skewed because only the GF component is shown for each. It’s not that much to ask we be informed of the total cost of each department and how much of our water bill goes to something other than treatment and delivery of the product.

Council plans a final vote on the 2024 proposed budget for next Monday’s regular meeting.