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

Surprise! What Management Analysts at City of DeKalb Don’t Do

Fun tidbit has come my way, and by “fun” I mean enormously dispiriting.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request dated 10/31/2016:

Please provide examples over the past three months (8-1-16 to 10-31-16) of analysis documents produced by anyone holding the title “management analyst” within the city of DeKalb’s employment.

This request is entirely for the public good and in no manner represents a commercial request.

As budget discussions are underway it is critical that this response be returned in a timely manner. The results need not be exhaustive, a few such analyses per designated employee will suffice.

The time scope may be expanded at a later time depending upon the results of this request.

City of DeKalb’s response to this request for information:

No records were found for the time period specified in your request.

The city expects to pass a budget in a few weeks that takes effect January 1, 2017, as well as pass a possibly record-setting property tax levy, and the management analysts haven’t been analyzing a thing.

Last I checked, the so-called analysts make more than $60,000 per year in salary alone, and do clerical work such as responding to FOIA requests.

DeKalb’s $10 Million Budget Hole

I’ve had a preliminary look at DeKalb’s FY17 budget.

The proposed operations (General Fund) budget, which begins in January, has $2.8 million in additional spending for personnel alone when compared to the FY16 budget that ended June 30. (I am ignoring the current six-month “FY16.5” budget at this time.) Biggest jumps:

$743,000 more in regular wages
$485,000 more for health insurance
$1,712,600 more for police and fire pensions

Total operations spending from the General Fund (GF) is projected to be up $3.3 million as compared to revenues, which are expected to increase by only $2.5 million.

How are they bridging the gap? I’ve spotted three ways so far: Continue reading DeKalb’s $10 Million Budget Hole

Sycamore Versus DeKalb: Comparison of City Clerks

Once upon a time, City of Sycamore and City of DeKalb had duly elected, full-time city clerks. Sycamore still has one. DeKalb’s, however, was destroyed in 2013. Low compensation and transfer of powers to the city manager’s office have deprived us of elected clerks and clerk candidates ever since.

Whatever the city thought it was doing when it allowed this state of affairs, the reality is that DeKalb residents may soon be facing their third election in which zero candidates for clerk appear on the ballot. Continue reading Sycamore Versus DeKalb: Comparison of City Clerks

Growth of Part-Time Wages

City of DeKalb’s three-year-plus hiring spree and pensions are not the only budget-busters we have to face. The wage growth for part-timers hired within the past three years, obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, is another area that appears out of control:

[table id=96 /]

This is a sample of eight part-time “Chapter 3” workers (not including crossing guards, and interns known to me) who came on board in 2013 or later and are still working for the city. I noted in the first column how many people each row applies to, where more than one person shares the same wage growth and approximate hire date.

DeKalb probably has about 50 part-time employees in total.

We used to have a council-approved “step” pay plan wherein “Chapter 3” employees, whose wages are not governed by negotiated labor contracts, would receive a raise of 16.75% following their rookie year of service. That plan was eliminated one year ago, but the numbers are still insane.

This is Why Your DeKalb City Property Taxes Have Gone Up So Much

People have been asking me why their city property taxes went up sharply this year. While much of it has to do with your assessment, of course, here’s the rest of the story.

[table id=95 /]

Until recently, City of DeKalb levied property taxes for pensions and FICA only. I went back as far as 2006, and the only years when the city levied for any other purposes are shown in the table, because collection of property taxes for bonded debt and for general corporate purposes is either new for DeKalb or a revived practice following long hiatus. Continue reading This is Why Your DeKalb City Property Taxes Have Gone Up So Much

What’s the Deal with DeKalb’s Legal Assistant?

DeKalb used to have in-house legal counsel, but now has contracts with individuals and firms to supply legal services.

One of the legal service providers is Dean Frieders of Frieders Law, LLC, who supposedly works for DeKalb three days per week.* Frieders is required by his contract with the city to supply all of his own staff for the $208,000 per year that we pay him. If any employee of City of DeKalb were to work for Frieders in any capacity, it would constitute a violation of that city contract.

Trouble is, DeKalb still employs a full-time legal assistant, and it looks like she works for Frieders. I say this because her actual job description requires her to assist legal counsel as well as the city manager. Continue reading What’s the Deal with DeKalb’s Legal Assistant?

More Gift Card Info

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request regarding DeKalb’s practice of buying gift cards for employees, the latest round of which occurred in December 2015 when City of DeKalb spent $5,400 on “employee holiday gift cards” for some 230 city employees.

Among other things, the FOIA request asked for the following: “Records that indicate the cards were properly counted as compensation and that federal and state withholding occurred.” The response was as follows:

No responsive records have been identified. The City determined that in previous years, the cards were not included within taxable amounts. The City has worked to ensure strict compliance in prospective years by eliminating these gift cards from proposed budgets; there is no proposed expenditure in the draft FY16.5 budget that would include gift cards of this
nature. That change in practice was made after an internal review of this matter by the City earlier this year.

Read here for the IRS rules specific to de minimus fringe benefits when the employer is a government. Cash and cash equivalents — yeah, this means gift cards, too — cannot be excluded from income and are always taxable, regardless of amount.

Oops. That’s almost $16,000 in untaxed compensation since 2013, guys.

Also, since the city included in its response no memos or other records of the elimination of gift cards for employees, we are free to assume that the “internal review” and decision to terminate the practice of giving gift cards occurred when administrators received my FOIA request dated April 21.

See the original FOIA request and response here.