School District Trying to Double-Dip City TIF Dollars

Monday’s city council Committee of the Whole (CoW) meeting includes this:

Consideration of a request by DeKalb School District #428 for TIF assistance in the amount of $2,000,000.

The assistance would go toward construction-related improvements to two schools that lie in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, Founders Elementary and Clinton Rosette Middle School.

Here’s the thing: District 428 already gets a substantial portion of TIF funding, in the form of a surplus that is declared and distributed each year. What’s more, the surplus scheme was specifically engineered to a) make sure the big property tax players signed on to the amended, extended Central Area TIF of 2008, and b) to replace just this sort of intergovernmental agreement between city and school district. Continue reading School District Trying to Double-Dip City TIF Dollars

November 25 Council Agenda

The city has put up another meeting agenda for tomorrow that’s a revision of the original, so all you early birds will have to read the new one. However, keep the old one handy because they didn’t include the rest of the packet with the revision.


Item 1: Another hit to the Public Safety Building Fund.

I. Summary:
With the Police Department having effected a move to the new Police Station on West Lincoln Highway, an unanticipated need has arisen for additional communications equipment to ensure officer and public safety within the Building.

II. Background:
The new police station was designed for a high degree of security, with extensive use of steel, concrete and concrete block. The qualities of those materials that make them strong and durable also make them resistant to radio wave transmission. In short, the design and construction of the building hampers the ability of police officers to utilize their two-way mobile radios when within the building, or to hear radio traffic and respond to public safety emergencies or request assistance when within the building.

The solution to this issue is to install a bi-directional antenna system within the building that will permit direct communications with officers. The cost of this system exceeds $20,000; however, it is an urgent public safety issue that requires an immediate response and the equipment required is from a sole-source provider that has been working on the balance of the radio communication system. For both of these reasons, staff requests that the Council waive competitive bidding and award a contract to Dixon Ottawa in an aggregate amount not to exceed $25,000.

How much did the first communications system cost? Can we get our money back? Could this problem have been anticipated? How many more errors will it take to annihilate the budget? Continue reading November 25 Council Agenda

This is What I Now Have to Do to Protect My Child’s Privacy

This is the latest phone/email from District 428:

This message is from the DeKalb School District to inform families that from time to time we allow coverage of activities, events and occasionally release and/or post on our website students’ photographs/work, performances, awards, and honor listings to be used in informational news coverage and educational purposes. If you do not want your child’s information and/or photo used, please indicate the request in writing and schedule an appointment to meet with your building principal.

Whom should I meet with first? My son’s principal or the genius administrator who is betting that the inconvenience created will eliminate the need to verify consents?

Belated High Five for District 428

Talk of a possible teachers’ strike last month was tense and emotional for a lot of us. When the school board and the teachers’ union came together at nearly the last minute, I felt relieved and psychologically moved past it right away.

But that was wrong.

What I should have done, and will do now, is to recognize that District 428 put out a bunch of information about the negotiations at its website. At first they posted the final offers from each side. Then they added a document clarifying the sticking points between the two groups, and others that compared District 428 work hours and pay to other districts in the area. Anyone who cared to read them was totally in the loop.

The district also front-paged a link to all these documents for easy access.

Well done, District 428.

Why the Truancy Ordinance is Probably Doomed

The Chronicle reports that city staff may drop the truancy ordinance.

The council voted unanimously to postpone any action on the proposal until Sept. 23, but now staff are considering dropping it completely.

Except that’s not their call. It’s council’s. This probably indicates there are not enough votes to pass the ordinance. Too bad. Smack it down right, with a vote on September 23.

And let’s call b.s. on this too: Continue reading Why the Truancy Ordinance is Probably Doomed

City of DeKalb, Truancy Services are Not Your Job

Do you ever go into a store during a weekday when your own kids are in school, and see similarly-aged kids and think, “I wonder why they’re not in school?”

I’ve done so quite reflexively on occasion, and when that happens I say or do…nothing. Because it’s none of my business.

This is between the parents/guardians and whatever school authorities apply to the situation.

Now, city staff are pushing a truancy ordinance that would encourage police officers to enforce what in essence constitutes a curfew during weekdays that District 428 schools are in session, making truancy suddenly the business of the City of DeKalb.

If a school district has a truancy problem and a municipality needs more revenue, it might seem like a good solution on the surface. However, several flaws emerged at last night’s council meeting, not the least of which was any lack of anticipation of how this would affect the kids who are privately schooled. Continue reading City of DeKalb, Truancy Services are Not Your Job

Chronicle Editorial Board Hasn’t Lived Here Very Long

Chronicle staff should live in this county for awhile before commenting on certain issues, such as what one can find today in “Our View: Falling home values a trying trend in county“.

When the housing market was healthy and new homes and businesses were built at a healthy clip, the opposite was true. Property values grew faster than the rate of inflation, property tax rates fell, and along with them, the tax cap led to decreases in annual tax property tax bills.

The person who has seen her property taxes rise on a modest home since 1993, some years by HUNDREDS more, is somewhat irritated to hear the Chronicle try to tell her otherwise.

Still, let’s stick to the facts. Here are the property tax rates and levies for the City of DeKalb* for each tax year since 2000:

2000 – 0.50490, $1,892,659
2001 – 0.52989, $2,121,088
2002 – 0.60566, $2,514,566
2003 – 0.59666, $2,600,088
2004 – 0.60000, $2,738,052
2005 – 0.59302, $3,022,165
2006 – 0.59672, $3,400,147
2007 – 0.60000, $3,742,937
2008 – 0.60000, $3,875,130
2009 – 0.65000, $4,185,457
2010 – 0.68990, $4,196,889
2011 – 0.72052, $4,197,062

Rates never fell during this period. Why? Because tax caps don’t apply to Home Rule communities.

Let’s do another one. Continue reading Chronicle Editorial Board Hasn’t Lived Here Very Long

DeKalb’s Population Illusions

**Update: DHS enrollment projections for next year have been corrected from 17,000 to 1,700 and I appreciate receiving the email heads up.**

Possibly the worst argument in support of the land swap deal between District 428 and Shodeen is this:

The land near [DeKalb High School] offers more promise for the district than Kiwanis Park. School officials said 1,800 students are enrolled at DHS now, but that number could expand to 2,500 or 3,000 students in the future, making it necessary to plan for a expansion of DHS facilities in the future.

I see that a commenter at the online newspaper site has already pointed out, “The most recent report done by an actual demographer and not an extrapolater shows flat enrollment for 20 years.”

It’s true. There was a demography report done pre-referendum, while our community enjoyed tremendous growth; then a second one was completed at the insistence of District 428’s Facilities Planning Committee after the economy tanked. Projections from the second show DeKalb’s high school enrollment dropping under 1,700 next year and the year after (which makes me wonder how close an estimate is the 1,800 reported above).

Unfortunately, the school board had their fingertips packed firmly in their ears during the presentation of the second demographer’s report, and they built DeKalb High School for 3,000 students. This has led to operational difficulties such as having to open DHS short four of the custodians they needed.

So, talking about expansion of DHS with any urgency right now is just…just

Colonel Sandurz: Prepare ship for light speed.
Dark Helmet: No, no, no, light speed is too slow.
Colonel Sandurz: Light speed, too slow?
Dark Helmet: Yes, we’re gonna have to go right to ludicrous speed.

Yeah, that’s it: ludicrous speed.

Continue reading DeKalb’s Population Illusions

Arguments Against New TIF Districts in DeKalb

Because somebody’s got to do it.

Here are the general reasons DeKalb should not open up any new Tax Increment Financing Districts at this time.

Pensions. DeKalb’s property tax levy is applied only toward pension costs, and pension costs have been accelerating. Every penny that gets swallowed by the increment has to be made up somehow. As it is, DeKalb’s been losing ground on pension funding progress despite raising its tax rate more than 20% since 2009. Another TIF is something we can ill afford from the standpoint of the city property tax.

Waste. The city is prone to adding “shopping therapy” kitsch to the downtown, and to granting corporate welfare as is being contemplated again now.

Misuse. Dekalb’s been cursed by TIF abuse from about Day One. TIF is supposed to fight blight. Sycamore Road retailers were among the first TIF recipients, but Sycamore Road has never been blighted; first it was corn fields and now it’s a thriving commercial district. Moreover, TIF is generally not intended for public buildings, but Barb City Manor, the Municipal Building et al are perennial dependents of TIF.

Zero Accountability. City manager Mark Biernacki approved almost $53,000 in TIF money to be paid to a DeKalb alderman without council permission. Then, he couldn’t seem to understand why the public had a problem with his actions. And at this moment, staff are building a $6 million reserve in TIF 2 for who-knows-what. Have you ever seen a newspaper article about a TIF Joint Review Board meeting? Me neither. I have seen some of its meeting minutes, though, and the conclusion I drew from them was that the board met once a year for maybe about two minutes.

Does this mean I’m against TIF in all circumstances? Of course not. But DeKalb has a long way to go before I could support another one here.