As We Head to the Final Vote on the Budget

DeKalb’s expenses are outpacing revenues:

The city will spend at least $30 million from its general fund, a 5.4 percent increase from this fiscal year. The city’s general fund pays for city personnel, equipment, and contractual services.

The city is projecting $31.1 million in revenue for fiscal 2014, a 4.2 percent increase from this fiscal year. In fiscal 2014, the city is paying $750,000 more on police and fire pensions out of their general fund.

Today I want to look closely at the revenue increases.

In dollars, the 4.2% expected net increase equals $1.08 million, which will cover the pension contribution hikes plus a bit more. However, so little of it comes from natural growth that you won’t need to pull out the tarot cards to see a shaky future. Continue reading As We Head to the Final Vote on the Budget

DeKalb’s Website Transparency Mystery Solved

Just in time for Sunshine Week, I’ve re-scored the City of DeKalb’s website transparency score from scratch.

Does it come anywhere near the Illinois Policy Institute’s score of 88.1 points? No.

But at least I have found out why. Check out the scoring rubric, here. This is the one I used both in December 2010 and yesterday, but it’s been unhooked from the main scoring page. You can see that six of the 10 categories originally required documents to be searchable for full credit, but this requirement eventually got dropped in favor of simply encouraging the posting of more documents online.

Without further ado: Continue reading DeKalb’s Website Transparency Mystery Solved

Something Odd About the Public Library Construction Grant Program

Because the local library applied for a state construction grant in 2012, I decided to read up on these grants. One result of the research is doubt that all the money from a new library grant “pot” has all gone to libraries — but I am having a difficult time finding out for sure. This is a progress report for citizen watchdogs and others interested in state level grant programs, the Illinois State Library and/or the Freedom of Information Act.

Sandwich Public Library found out about its $1.6 million construction grant award months ago, but word is just now circulating. DeKalb Public Library was notified in July that it wouldn’t receive an award this fiscal year, yet suddenly now it’s getting $8.5 million from the state for its planned expansion.

The questions that arise out of these announcements — and their peculiar timing — are related to what I would describe as an uncharacteristic lack of transparency by the Illinois State Library in administering a $50 million construction grant program. I’ve used the Internet and, just lately, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to try to part the curtains.

Though the FOIA adventure continues, having local libraries and their good fortunes in the news seems a reasonable excuse to lay out the story so far, so here goes. Continue reading Something Odd About the Public Library Construction Grant Program

Miscellaneous Municipal Election News, Site News

First off, I want to follow up on the question of repealing home rule in Mt. Vernon. Voters defeated the challenge, meaning home rule is retained. High profile business backers, a core group of “Vote No” volunteers plus use of social media are credited with the success.

While the Mt. Vernon pro-home rule group won with 57% of the vote, there was a veritable smackdown by 70% of voters of the proposition to make the city clerk’s office in DeKalb an appointed one. It’s difficult not to look at this as a referendum on city administration, and on the performance of city manager Mark Biernacki in particular. Let him laugh at the suggestion that the ballot question was an attempted power grab — that doesn’t make it untrue.

With the retention of an elected city clerk, congenitally optimistic residents like me can hope for a real watchdog in the position.

Lastly, I’d like to note that City Barbs is now seven years old.

Treat this as an open thread if you like. Name yer topic.

DeKalb’s Daily Chronicle Trashes the Stop the Mega Dump Group

In “Time to Dump Landfill Protests,” the Chronicle lays out reasons for trashing the efforts of the little people.

Reason 1:

There’s nowhere else for the anti-landfill group to turn short of the Illinois Supreme Court, which might decline to hear the case.

Stop the Mega Dump should quit because the Supremes might reject it? WTH?

Reason 2:

It’s understandable that an expansion that would allow the landfill to accept as many as 2,000 tons of trash a day would be unpopular. At some point, however, the community and the company should be allowed to move forward.

Yeah, like maybe after an attempt at a Supreme Court appeal. What’s the rush, Chronicle?

Reason 3:

The impact of the expansion has not been felt. Waste Management has assured residents that a larger landfill will not endanger their health and safety.

Wow, great show of healthy journalistic skepticism.

More importantly, though, the newspaper is in effect trashing STMD’s contention that the process of approving the expansion was so fundamentally flawed, the threats to public health such as hydrogen sulfide emissions, groundwater contamination and vulnerabilities to seismic activity were never seriously examined and considered. Continue reading DeKalb’s Daily Chronicle Trashes the Stop the Mega Dump Group

State Budget Crisis Task Force Report is Out

It’s a 69-page PDF file. I just got my hands on it and will read it this weekend.

The New York Times published a story. So did the Chicago Trib, but the Times story is a bit “fuller.”

I actually saw news of the report’s release first at The Stephenson Blumdoggle, so here’s a tip o’ the hat to Tutty. Do you read his blog? A lot of what happens here in DeKalb has happened/is happening in Freeport and Stephenson County, such as a library expansion and a pet “economic development” project of the old boys’ club called Mill Race Crossing.

Let’s Talk IDOC

The consequences of drug, sentencing and public health policies are now coming home to roost in the state’s corrections system, their impacts magnified by Illinois’ dismal fiscal situation. They include continued high financial and social costs, Constitutional questions and even potential threats to the public health.

Fortunately, for better understanding of the current situation in our prisons we can look to the John Howard Association, a nonpartisan watchdog of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and its facilities that runs on a lot of volunteer power.

JHA has just released a report called “Unasked Questions, Unintended Consquences.” The report analyzes 15 findings and recommendations ranging from the lack of accountability for a $1.4 billion IDOC contract for health care, to the developing problems of housing a booming population of elderly prisoners. Continue reading Let’s Talk IDOC

Trib’s Undeniable Indictment of Home Rule

Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune: “Towns Borrow, You Pay”.

When the Trib covered the Rosemont story a few weeks ago, it looked at Home Rule but more tangentially. This time, the poster child is Bellwood and Home Rule, which gives municipalities free rein on borrowing and taxation, is front and center:

The vast majority of states — including all of the largest ones — do not offer municipalities such blank checks.

Ken Small of the Florida League of Cities said he would worry if his state had Illinois’ loose rules.

“It is like giving your teenager a credit card,” he said.

In Illinois’ home-rule municipalities, the onus is on voters to decipher the financial ramifications of what their local officials are doing. And even then, residents may only get a say come election time, and only if their local officials face competition on the ballot.

DeKalb residents never really get a say, because in addition to Home Rule it has the council-manager form of government. This means the CEO is the appointed city manager, not the mayor. Not only that, but the city manager has an employment contract with no expiration date on it. And furthermore we’ve been cursed with councils that, for whatever reason, don’t think we can do better.

Here’s an Interesting Change to the Open Meetings Act

Changes such as the addition of the right to speak during government meetings will take effect in 2013.

(g) Any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.

Looks like we’ll be allowed our three minutes apiece at all public meetings beginning next January — well, most of us will, at least.

See Boone County Watchdog for more information about the changes to OMA.

Mt. Vernon Residents to See Home Rule Question on November Ballot

When last we left our Mt. Vernon heroes, they had just presented a petition to have the question of revoking Home Rule put on the ballot in November.

I was a little alarmed that the Mt. Vernon city council had planned to vet the petition. In DeKalb this would probably constitute the kiss of death, but apparently democracy is still valued in some parts of Illinois.

The ballot wording voters will see is: “Should the people of Mt. Vernon, IL return the power to raise local taxes only by a vote from the people approving said tax, stopping the City Council from raising taxes through their sole power of Home Rule without your vote? If so vote Yes to Revoke Home Rule powers from the City of Mt. Vernon, in the County of Jefferson, State of Illinois, 62864.”

The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Past Presidents’ Council is reportedly launching a campaign to educate voters about Home Rule in Mt. Vernon, and what the consequences of repeal would be.