DeKalb’s growth in personnel expenses

There’s another special city council meeting, specifically a budget meeting, set for this evening. It’s apparently a follow-up of what they discussed last week.

On Thursday, the council held a joint meeting with the finance advisory committee to outline a proposed 5 percent reduction in city department budgets for fiscal 2018. This equates to nine full-time positions and 11 part-time positions being dropped and nearly $20 million being cut.

I watched the joint council-FAC meeting that the newspaper is referring to, and it did not look like there was much cutting of staff happening. With few exceptions, department heads talked about cutting expenses in a one-off manner. For example, they suggested simply not contributing the usual $12,000 to IHSA this year, and cutting non-critical training, and putting off purchases of equipment and software. In other words, the show was pretty much the same juggling act they do every year. Continue reading DeKalb’s growth in personnel expenses

Anatomy of DeKalb’s proposals for a sales tax hike

That’s not a typo in the headline. There are, I believe, two proposals for a sales tax hike of one cent for fiscal 2018. One comes from DeKalb city administrators, the other from the city’s finance advisory committee (FAC).

Here’s the proposal staff put into the draft budget:

proposed increase of sales tax

Sales tax for hiring police officers? Sales tax for “operations stabilization?” These people have run out of money for day-to-day expenses. The hiring spree chickens have come home to roost. Continue reading Anatomy of DeKalb’s proposals for a sales tax hike

DeKalb, I’ve got your new police officers right here

DeKalb staff are proposing a one-cent rise in the local sales tax in order to meet next fiscal year’s budget beginning January 1, 2018.

They’ll tell you this is about street improvements, but they didn’t care about that last year or the year before, so I believe anything promised for streets is a sweetener to make the proposal more politically palatable.

What’s really going on is that the city has run out of money for streets AND operations now. They’d like to hire three new patrol officers, but they can’t do it because of the structural budget issue, meaning they’ve hired employees beyond what the growth in revenues can accommodate.

So they want $600,000 of the new sales tax to go into the General Fund. That’s how much they’re short for their current ambitions. But what the city council really should do is tell city manager Anne Marie Gaura to cut some people from the departments that come under the umbrella of administrative services. That’s where the most growth in personnel has happened on Gaura’s watch.


Continue reading DeKalb, I’ve got your new police officers right here

Chief Lowery doesn’t want you at meetings if you don’t have anything nice to say

DeKalb’s police chief, Eugene Lowery, is so very, very tired of your negativity. Here’s what he said at Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting of council.

I want you to hear everyone’s voice. Not the voices of the few that walk up to this podium, and day in and day out, or week in and week out, have nothing but negative things to say.

In this setting (or so my 12 years of watchdogging the city tell me) “negativity” is substituted for the more accurate word “disagreement.” It’s a device the bureaucrats occasionally use to try to silence and marginalize people who disagree with their ideas, goals and methods.

But I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a city employee straight-up tell the city council who to listen to. That part may be unprecedented.

More from Chief Lowery:

God, I shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to say it anyway. I believe Brendan Behan was an Episcopalian bishop, I think it was, like, late 1800s. He said this: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they are unable to do it themselves.”*

Continue reading Chief Lowery doesn’t want you at meetings if you don’t have anything nice to say

DeKalb may raise taxes, but the structural budget issue remains

DeKalb’s Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) will be recommending that the city council raise the property tax levy by $954,000, and its local (home rule) sales tax by one cent, in the fiscal year starting January 2018.

The property tax recommendation was approved by the FAC in early October, and the sales tax during a meeting November 2.*

Even if the city council passes the recommended increases, FAC members acknowledge it would not fix the basic operations budget problem. The hikes, if approved, would balance the General Fund budget for this year, and maybe next. But without a major intervention to eliminate the structural issue, they would not constitute a long-term solution.

Indeed, the city’s own five-year forecast has the General Fund in deficit of nearly $2.9 million by 2022 — and that forecast is now due for an update because of DeKalb’s recent purchase of the condemned Edgebrook property and the latest downwardly-revised projections for state income tax revenues. On this trajectory, we could be looking at a hole of $3.5 million or more in operating revenues. And the forecast doesn’t cover grimmer scenarios, such as what happens to income tax revenues (distributed on a per capita basis) if DeKalb’s population has shrunk to fewer than the currently-claimed 40,030 residents, or how we’ll end up if recession hits in the next couple years. Continue reading DeKalb may raise taxes, but the structural budget issue remains

City of DeKalb’s share of county property taxes, not including the latest wish list

If you haven’t heard, the DeKalb is setting a property tax “ceiling” during its regular meeting tonight.

This is a legal-beagle advance notification of the highest aggregate amount that DeKalb could possibly ask for when the council sets the levy during its first meeting in December.

What a piece of luck, because recently I’ve been looking at past property tax share portions in DeKalb County. Below you can see tax year 2016, which we just got done paying for in September:

chart of property tax shares in dekalb county

The proportions have remained very stable for the past decade. District 428 mostly ranges within a point either way of its current share, and hasn’t risen above 63%. Kish College has gone as high as 7% and is now on the low end of its usual range. The one exception is City of DeKalb.

In the chart below, what I’ve done is to compare City of DeKalb, its component unit DeKalb Public Library, and DeKalb County. For six years (and maybe more), the property tax shares of City of DeKalb and its library equalled the share of DeKalb County government at 10%, but over the past three years the county has done a better job holding the line on tax increases, while the city has pushed rapid growth in its levies.

Next year, what with the city’s new director of finance talking about a 9.5% share, the city will likely solidify its new status as second-highest consumer of property taxes in the county, even before counting the library.

TIF spending for streets in FY16 did not come anywhere near what DeKalb is claiming

The setup: During the special Committee of the Whole meeting of Monday evening, DeKalb council members were discussing with staff a proposed budget reduction in 2018 for the street improvement program in our two TIF districts, specifically a staff recommendation to cut in half the usual $1 million budgeted for streets in the TIFs. During the course of this discussion, Alderman David Jacobson asked whether the money budgeted in the TIFs for previous years actually got spent. Here’s the actual transcripted exchange:

Jacobson: One other question, only because it was something that was brought up this afternoon to me. I know there was a question last year about– I think it was in the 16-and-a-half budget, if I’m correct, that the council asked for a million-dollar budget in the TIFs for road expenditures, and there was some question as to whether or not that was ever spent?

Public Works Director Tim Holdeman: Absolutely, that was spent. That was in our road program for this year; we have completed that street maintenance, both in TIF 1 and TIF 2 districts. I don’t have the final numbers, but it’s very close to a million dollars. It bid out at about $990,000. So with the engineering, we were right at– we were a little bit above a million, but we could supplement that with Fund 50, so…[crosstalk]

Jacobson: And was that the same in ’16 as well?

Holdeman: For ’16?

Jacobson: The full million for ’16?

Holdeman: Yes, that was the same for fiscal year ’16, yes.

Holdeman’s comments make it sound like the city spent $1 million out of the TIF funds in FY16, another $1 million in FY17, and maybe something in between, during that six-month budget period they call FY16.5. But these claims are not demonstrably true at this point. The FY16 audited numbers are available, and as I reported earlier this year,* the TIF reports filed with the Illinois Comptroller show that not quite $115,000 was spent in the TIF districts on street improvements during FY16 — nowhere near the budgeted $1 million. Continue reading TIF spending for streets in FY16 did not come anywhere near what DeKalb is claiming

DeKalb’s HR budget is out of control, and now they want to make it even worse

DeKalb’s Human Resources budget growth by fiscal year (rounded):

2014: $164,000 (actual)

2015: $184,000 (actual)

2016: $254,000 (actual)

2017: $456,000 (projected)

In FY14, there was one full-time director and one part-timer in HR.

Before that, there were some difficult years where HR had only one director, and the assistant city manager helped fill the gaps (along with having budget officer duties).

For FY17, we now have two expensive administrators (HR director and assistant director), a part-time administrative assistant, and a part-time HR generalist.

City staff would like to make the generalist’s position full-time for the next fiscal year, which would double the personnel from FY14 and effectively triple the budget during the same time period.

Even during DeKalb’s population boomlet and NIU’s peak enrollment (ca. 2007), when DeKalb was hiring rapidly to keep up with growth, HR never required more than two full-timers — and that was before all the compulsive software shopping, too.

So when do we see increases in productivity? When does council end the destructive hiring spree?

Until it does, we can’t have nice streets.

Why I’m alleging DeKalb violated the Open Meetings Act yesterday

During a special meeting of the city council yesterday, I alleged that City of DeKalb had not given sufficient notice of the meeting, in that DeKalb did not explicitly name a location for it.

The city maintains that it gave sufficient notice because the agenda was printed on city letterhead, which includes the address of the Municipal Building. I believe letterhead may be sufficient for a regular meeting but not for a special meeting.

From merely a practical standpoint, consider that DeKalb often holds special meetings in special places, not just the Muni Building. As an example, I’ve attended special meetings of council at NIU, the library — even once on a bus. People who attend city meetings know about this aspect of special meetings, and the lack of location information caused confusion among the public yesterday.

There are legal considerations as well. Let’s explore them. Continue reading Why I’m alleging DeKalb violated the Open Meetings Act yesterday

IRS revoked 501(c)3 status from DeKalb Firefighters Historical Foundation 2+ years ago

As part of staff reports during Monday’s regular city council meeting, the mayor read a statement from Todd Stoffa, a captain with the fire department who is also president of the DeKalb Firefighters Historical Foundation.

On behalf of DeKalb Firefighters Historical Foundation, I would like to express my sincere apologies for the mishap that led to the email and Facebook questions that were raised this past week regarding our 501(c)3 status. We were unaware of the issue until it was brought to our attention. We have been advised by our accountant that we were one of 22,000 small groups that were inadvertently and mistakenly dropped by the IRS due to a paperwork issue. We’ve already met with our accountant, and submitted all of the necessary documentation, to be reinstated as a valid 501(c)3 organization.

Yeah, the Facebook stuff was me. I made the issue public two Sundays ago when I discovered that the foundation is continuing to fundraise despite revocation of tax-exempt status.

They did so last year, too, and I did not want to see it repeated. In fact, the publicity for the Fall 2016 pancake breakfast advertised pricey tax-deductible sponsorships.


Continue reading IRS revoked 501(c)3 status from DeKalb Firefighters Historical Foundation 2+ years ago