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 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 $20,000 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.