Why did DeKalb change its employee numbers going back 10 years?

I was looking up city budgets yesterday and thought that information on numbers of employees would help provide more context for what I was seeing.

My resource for this is the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), not the CAFR itself, but a report appended near the end of the document that’s called “Full-Time Equivalent Employees,” or as I call it, the FTE report.

The FTE report does not tell you how many people the city employed, but it does tell you how many FTEs it budgeted for in each city department during the fiscal year just closed, plus the FTEs budgeted each of nine additional years back.

Imagine my shock when I saw that the FTE report attached to the FY16 CAFR changed all the historical data. Continue reading Why did DeKalb change its employee numbers going back 10 years?

Pie is for Bureaucrats, Not Streets People

A friend of mine asked a couple weeks ago whether there is some way to calculate how much growth there’s been of bureaucrats in city government. Like many locals, I know that the DeKalb city manager has been generally allowed to spin off new departments and hire new administrators without restraint, but we’re somewhat lacking in numbers.

The main question: Just how top-heavy has the city become?

My approach was to look at departments funded by the General Fund — and divisions of these departments, where applicable — with a view toward defining what makes each particular department/division primarily about administration, versus frontline public safety, versus none of the above.

The details of the methodology are placed at the end of this post.

Going back far enough that I could fully appreciate what Mayor Rey and Manager Gaura have wrought, I found that expenses in the General Fund (GF) have grown by $6 million since FY2013.* Roughly $4 million of it has gone to the public safety category of police and fire personnel ($2.65 and $1.33 million, respectively) and $2 million towards administrative functions in GF departments.

To break it down further, of the $2 million for admin, a bit more than $300,000 has gone into the administrative divisions of police and fire, and the rest of it to the city manager’s office and the creation/expansion of the HR, IT, and Community Development departments.

They’re getting more in terms of GF dollars, but so is almost everybody. Are the admins actually getting a larger slice of the pie than they used to? Yes. The administrative piece from FY2011 through FY2014 averaged 21.5% of the admin-public safety total, but now its share exceeds 26%.

Public Works gets no pie, particularly not its Streets Division, which has had virtually the same budget since the personnel reduction and organization of FY2011.
Continue reading Pie is for Bureaucrats, Not Streets People

Pension Plan Membership as a Factor in Jump of Net Pension Liability

DeKalb’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) is out. It covers Fiscal Year 2016, which ended June 30, 2016. The big news is the net pension liability.

Public safety expenses related to the operations of both the Police Department and Fire Department accounted for the largest share of expenses at $33,400,660 or 50.1% of the total. This represents a 50.1% increase from the FY15 total of $22,259,920. This increase was due primarily to the increase in the net pension liability for police and fire pension plans.

Yes, the city’s net financial position was reduced in one year by $12.4 million, and an increase in long-term liabilities accounts for about three quarters of the loss.

We can attribute a combination of factors in the increase in liabilities, not the least of which were investment returns coming in well under the actuarial assumption of 7.5%. However, today I’d like to focus on the growth of membership in the public safety pension plans, because it’s shocking to see them escalate like this while DeKalb itself is shrinking.

[easychart type=”vertbar” width=”420″ title=”Public Safety Pension Funds Membership” groupnames=”PD Members, FF Members” valuenames=”04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16″ group1values=”91, 93, 94, 97, 101, 100, 98, 99, 101, 107, 108, 111, 115″ group2values=”92, 97, 98, 105, 105, 105, 104, 102, 106, 107, 113, 116, 116″ minaxis=”90″] Continue reading Pension Plan Membership as a Factor in Jump of Net Pension Liability

Cindy and Ed Must Be Part of Voters’ Conversations about County Tax Referendum

***Note: This was originally published in June 2016. I am posting an updated version today, since the referendum ended up on the April 4, 2017 ballot instead of last November’s.***

The DeKalb County Health Department is trying to persuade our county board to place a referendum on the November election ballot to begin levying a property tax specifically for health services.

If this referendum does appear on the ballot, the most pressing questions for voters must include evaluation of needs, and of DeKalb County’s stewardship of our money.

Turns out, I have an example related to the latter for you to consider. Let me introduce you to Cindy and Ed. Continue reading Cindy and Ed Must Be Part of Voters’ Conversations about County Tax Referendum

DeKalb City Manager Oversteps Purchasing Authority Again

Recently I came across this City of DeKalb memo circulated via a council meeting agenda in October:

With former Commander Smith’s retirement in June, the City faced an immediate crisis by not having on-call IT personnel who are familiar with the City’s specific computer systems and able to keep them operational at all times. On June 29, 2016, the City Manager entered into an agreement with Mr. Smith to provide IT support services to the City’s public safety computer system. An agreement to retain Mr. Smith until a new IT Director is hired needs to be approved by the City Council in the event the contract exceeds $20,000.

And here’s part of the resolution accompanying the memo:

WHEREAS, the City’s Purchasing Policy states: If any City purchase increases the total over $20,00 for the current fiscal year, the contract must be presented to the City Council for approval; and

WHEREAS, the ratification of said agreement constitutes approval to the exceed the $20,000 staff spending limitation; and…

Sounds like city manager Anne Marie Gaura can spend on anything she wants, as long as the tab comes in under $20,000, right? Sure seems like it sometimes. Continue reading DeKalb City Manager Oversteps Purchasing Authority Again

If at First They Don’t Spend All, They Try, Try Again

***Update 12/13: I did not make the meeting last night, but have been told that the RFP discussion has been tabled or postponed.***

***Update 12/12: Some of the comments about the RFP on Facebook are interesting.***

A memo accompanying Item G8 of tomorrow’s DeKalb city council agenda starts like this.

The Information Technology Department conducted a Request for Proposal (RFP) process for the replacement of physical and virtual servers for the Police and Fire departments. Responders were required to provide a solution that would provide the departments with the servers and storage to replace the present systems as well as provide that ability to expand both the processing power and expansion of the storage in the future. There were two respondents to the RFP, Sun Dog, Inc (Sun Dog) with a proposal of $119,182.37, and Syndeo Networks Inc. (Syndeo) at $88,341.20.

The budgeted amount is $150,000, so they’re doing great, right? Not so fast.

As part of the RFP, disaster recovery was requested of the proposal for emergency purposes. In case of a major disaster this would allow all systems to be replicated and operational at an alternate location. Syndeo’s proposal was for $179.643.00 and Sun Dog did not provide this option. Since the proposal from Syndeo was over the budgeted amount, they were asked for another solution that would allow staff to stay within the budgeted amount. They were able to provide a third alternative that was $151,029.25. Sun Dog was then contacted to provide pricing for solutions 2 and 3. Those two prices were an estimated $199,182.37 for solution 2 and $249,182.37 for solution 3.

To be very clear: the budgeted amount of $150,000 (p. 188) was specifically for server consolidation and storage. That’s it. Somehow, other goodies got added along the way so they could spend the budgeted amount and more.

Can’t wait to see if council calls out the bait and switch.

Fighting Over Scraps

The Chronicle posted an article online last night about council’s fight over the proposed annual budget that begins January 1.

The article says that city staff presented a draft budget with 75% cuts in the social services allocations. This is different from the online version available to the public, which shows the line item (account 8307) as $160,000.

It’s a problem that these various drafts never get posted for the public so we can participate in a meaningful way. However, my main point here is that everyone is reduced to fighting over scraps to balance this budget, because the city manager refuses to give up any goodies for herself and her pets. The human services line item has been, at best for several years, at $150,000; that probably wouldn’t cover the compensation the new IT director will get. What’s budgeted for education and professional development (account 8376) is $249,000, an amount that’s more than doubled in two years. Meanwhile, reductions in raises are considered the “last resort.” They deny themselves nothing.

Staff say they are only reducing what’s not “core services.” Maintaining streets is a core service, but expenditures for streets are nil next year in your neighborhood unless you’re lucky enough to live in a TIF district.

As Ald. Jacobson put it:

They did what I expected them to do and proved that they are here to serve themselves, they are here to ensure that the raises are either expected or guaranteed and that they get paid more while the community continues to suffer.

That’s what bureaucrats do. They carve out their territories and feather their nests. Our only hope — always, not just now — is a council that understands its role as a check on their enormous appetites.

The budget is up for final approval December 12.

DeKalb’s Decaying Support of Social Services

**Correction and clarification added 11/30**

In DeKalb’s fiscal year budget for 2008, $214,000 was allocated in the legislative department budget for social services funding. Two years later, the amount was reduced to $150,000, because the city was still experiencing post-Great Recession budget crises.

The funding has never been restored. It’s been at $150,000 ever since, split between about a dozen agencies/programs.

In the proposed FY2017 budget under consideration now, administrators went so far as to zero out this legislative line item altogether. (**correction/clarification added 11/30: it still appears as a line item, though moved to the community development department, and not at the reduced amount discussed Monday.) Council quickly restored the funding Monday evening amid public outcry. However, I doubt that serious discussion of actual policy took place.

We do need to have that discussion. Should city government fund social and supportive services? If so, what’s the plan? Continue reading DeKalb’s Decaying Support of Social Services

Balancing a Budget through Neglect of Neighborhoods

In “Mayor’s View: DeKalb in Solid Financial Shape for 2017,” John Rey is claiming that DeKalb is in fine financial shape.

This will be his campaign refrain, but it’s nonsense. DeKalb has been spending more than it’s been taking in, the steep rise in spending is primarily due to over-staffing, and the foremost casualty is infrastructure such as street maintenance. It’s the same pattern as for 2010-11, only worse.

[easychart type=”line” width=”420″ title=”Capital Project Expenditures in Millions” groupnames=”Capital Funds, MFT for Streets, Total Cap Plus MFT” valuenames=”06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17″ group1values=”3.4, 2.0, 1.8, 1.8, .6, 1, 1.3, 2.2, 1.3, 1, .9, .9″ group2values=”1.9, .9, 1.5, .9, 1.2, .3, .2, .4, .9, .4, 0, 0″ group3values=”5.3, 2.9, 3.3, 2.7, 1.8, 1.3, 1.5, 2.6, 2.2, 1.4, .9, .9″ minaxis=”.8″]

The first category reflects expenditures from Capital Projects, Fleet Fund, and Equipment Fund; some years Fleet and Equipment are separate, other years they are combined with/in Capital Projects. The second category includes expenditures out of two accounts in the Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) Fund that have to do with street maintenance and construction. (Other accounts in this fund, such as one for road salt, are more operationally related and therefore not included.) The third category combines the first two expenditure categories so you can see how close to the bottom of the barrel we are.

As projected, the coming year’s capital expenditures will reach their lowest point in at least a dozen years.

Related: DeKalb’s $10 Million Budget Hole