Calling Fowl in Batavia

The Daily Herald reports that the City of Batavia’s Community Development Committee is researching the possibility of allowing residents to house chickens.

This Kane County development seems kind of fitting in view of Garfield Farm’s efforts to save the Black Java breed.

I’ve done some homework on keeping chickens in the city, and I know city slickers who raise chickens (not in DeKalb, though). It is legal in cities and towns across the country. What happens in your neighborhood depends mainly on whether your neighbor is conscientious, just as it does with dogs. Given a properly staffed code enforcement division and the right ordinance, I could maybe get behind a few coops in DeKalb.

Comments on 4/12 Meeting

I jumped in about 7:30 last night, in the midst of citizens’ comments so the proclamations must have taken a long time! Here’s my assessment of what I saw.

The Bad

The saddest part, of course, was Council’s approval of almost all of ReNew DeKalb’s wish list. With that they closed the door on the possibility of using TIF funding for the badly-needed police station expansion for the next 10 years; an option that, in light of our poor financial position, we should have held onto.

Also, the city left out something important in its repayment calculations. It’s all well and good to ask whether we can repay the $12 million if EAV within the TIF drops another 5% or 10%, but nobody mentioned what the threshold is for real trouble. Why is a 10% drop the arbitrary worst-case scenario? Is it because we’d hit trouble at 11%? 15%? Holy cow, I can’t believe nobody asked. This is a failure of imagination that could really end up biting us.

The Good Continue reading Comments on 4/12 Meeting

4th Street TIF? Not on Your Life

Chronicle: “Fourth Street plans continue at monthly meetings”:

[Brian] Scholle, an insurance agent whose office is on South Fourth Street, is spearheading the initiative to redevelop South Fourth Street, which he stressed will require a lot of patience.

“South Fourth Street has to be the next area that’s on the city’s radar,” Scholle said.

Creating a tax increment financing [TIF] district would be a necessary step, Scholle said, especially if the vision includes fixing infrastructure problems and blighted building facades.

Let’s start with the City of DeKalb’s meeting calendar for November. You see an Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting posted there? How about October? Me neither. So much for upholding the spirit of the Open Meetings Act. Continue reading 4th Street TIF? Not on Your Life

RIP Thread

Regarding the proposed, controversial Rental Inspection Program (RIP), I have obtained materials available at the website of the Tenants, Landowners, Community Rights Group (TLC), have talked with a couple landlords and have read about voluntary inspection programs in other college towns (such as here and here.)

While not necessarily opposed to a rental inspection program, I do think we should at least consider a voluntary model first. I also am inclined to think that a RIP predicated, as this one so obviously is, more on motivations of revenue enhancement than of community enhancement is doomed to be a big fat failure and a searing indictment of the way the city does business.

Also, nobody has really explained what is so lacking in Chapters 10 (Tenant-Landlord), 12 (Nuisance) and 13 (Building Codes)–besides draconian fines, that is–that we can’t possibly enforce what’s already on the books. Let’s have some thorough public hearings on the current state of code enforcement to find the real holes that need mending.

DeKalb County Online: Rental Inspection Manager Hired Last Year

Surprise! The City of DeKalb has been paying the “proposed” Rental Inspection Program Manager for the better part of a year now:

According to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, filed by DeKalb County Online, the City hired an independent contractor, retired DeKalb Police Lt. James Kayes, to perform the duties of a Rental Inspections Manager in October, 2007. The contract, which runs through September, 2008, states that Kayes is paid $40 per hour for each hour of work he turns in on a bi-weekly basis.

The contract does not specify a limit to billable hours and includes reimbursement for expenses incurred by Kayes, plus use of a City vehicle and equipment. Kayes reports to the Community Development Director, Russ Farnum.

City attorney, Norma Guess, explained in a response letter regarding the FOIA request that the contract was approved by City Manager, Mark Biernacki. Her letter stated that the position and the contract was discussed by City Council during closed sessions and therefore the minutes regarding those discussions are not available to the public.

Mr. Biernacki is allowed to approve expenses of up to $20,000 per year without Council approval and Mr. Kayes has been paid up to about $6000 per month. Watch the monthly check registers and you do the math. [Update for clarification: If there is not a cap of $20,000 per year in the contract–and there’s not–only the negotiations should have been private. The contract itself should have been approved in open session, a la Daley Group.]

City Watcher Thought #2 on Friday the 13th: Rental Inspection Program

In reading the first of two ordinances critical to the proposed Rental Inspection program, I see nothing in the proposed “Chronic Nuisance Property Abatement” ordinance (start on p. 10) that limits it to rental properties. No property owner would be safe from being called a chronic nuisance and summoned to a legal proceeding at City Hall where a fine of $1,000 per deemed nuisance day up to $50,000 could be imposed and a lien put upon said property. Everyone, not just tenants and landlords (and anybody at all on John Street) should be fighting this. Visit the Tenants, Landowners, Community Rights Group, which is also on our “Mailing Lists and Groups” collection of links.

Here is a bonus thought. If we really need to put another layer of code enforcement on the books why not get to the bottom of the reasons why the ordinances we currently have aren’t working right. What with all the stories one hears about lack of enforcement or differential/preferential enforcement, I believe we need to identify and correct our weaknesses in this area in a very systematic way. City Council should start by calling public hearings on code enforcement and invite all parties affected by it to testify to their experiences.

National Citizen Survey: DeKalb may be a college town.

Yep, DeKalb did another survey last fall, this time the National Citizen Survey administered by the National Research Center at the University of Colorado. About 400 towns, cities and other jurisdictions take the same survey each year, so we not only have ratings given by our own residents but can see how DeKalb stacks up to the other participating communities when it comes to delivering city services and responding to the major issues we face.

What you’ll find here first is a quick overview of the survey methodology as well as a summary of some of the results. (Quotes come from the NCS 2006 Summary Report and/or the Staff Summary prepared for the 2/20/2006 city council workshop unless otherwise noted.) Then I’ll re-visit the DeKalb “identity crisis” issue and the downtown revitalization plan in terms of the Survey results.
Continue reading National Citizen Survey: DeKalb may be a college town.