As the city ponders a property tax hike of 37% as well as water rate and fee “adjustments,” you may wonder how DeKalb has got itself mired in financial straits.
It’s actually nothing new. DeKalb’s budget issues are — and have been since at least 2005 — the result of snatching nearly every penny of revenue growth and putting them into more staff and higher salaries, to the detriment of other areas such as street maintenance.
Worse yet, DeKalb has to come up with, at minimum, a half-million new dollars in revenue each budget cycle just to stay abreast of annual personnel cost increases. It’s rendered the financial gurus unable to look ahead more than 12 months at a time because they continually need to chase the next rabbit for the proverbial hat.
Want proof? The stated Number One strategic priority of the City of DeKalb is “Infrastructure,” yet capital improvements are precisely the area that’s been starved in the current budget. That’s pretty messed up.
And a proposed 37% hike in property taxes bespeaks the latest shortage of bunnies for the hat trick. Continue reading DeKalb’s Shortage of Magic Rabbits
The data for the following charts come from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs).
In view of DeKalb staff’s continually stated desire to hire, I’ve begun with a look at the numbers of full-time equivalent employees. The city is using a figure of 220 city employees during its budget process instead of the most recently available CAFR number of 230. I’ve arbitrarily split the difference for the chart.*
[easychart type=”line” width=”420″ title=”Full Time Equivalent Employees by Fiscal Year” groupnames=”FTEs” valuenames=”01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14″ group1values=”224, 231, 240, 237, 250, 254, 261, 262, 249, 241, 211, 209, 217, 225″ minaxis=”208″]
No matter whose number you use for the past year, DeKalb’s been hiring at a brisk pace following the Great Recession crash-and-burn. However, some council and Financial Advisory Committee members would like to start putting the brakes on hiring. Let’s look at why. Continue reading Numbers to Consider During the Budget Process
The agenda for last night’s joint meeting between DeKalb city council members and the city’s Finance (sic) Advisory Committee included a list of 14 communities besides DeKalb and their “comparable economic data.”
The argument seems to be that DeKalb taxpayers can afford to pay more in property taxes than the “bargain” they are currently getting relative to residents of other towns.
The comps had DeKalb’s median family income as $61,806. I laughed.
Don’t get me wrong — DeKalb’s median family income really is $61,806.
But you only come up with that figure if you leave more than half of DeKalb’s households out of the calculation. Continue reading Half of DeKalb is Doing Well Enough to Compare to Others
The following is a production of StrongTowns.org.
Note: Strong Towns is not responsible for any mental duress resulting from repeated watching of this video. We are also not responsible for angry reactions from planners and engineers confronted with the illogic of their world view. If watching as part of a group, we recommend having a padded room or some type of physical restraint system available to keep those that develop a temporary feeling of hopelessness from doing damage to themselves or others.
As DeKalb tries to figure out how to come up with $6 million a year more to repair our neglected streets without chasing out more of our population, there are ways to put together better answers. For our city, it means a major shift away from its Edifice Complex (public spending on buildings that don’t contribute to the tax base) and development of a grownup’s appreciation for basic infrastructure.
I am loving the budget talks, mostly. They make me feel like the city is in much better hands than it used to be.
For example, in response to a question from a Financial Advisory Committee member last Saturday, the city manager confirmed: Revenues that for the previous year had been spent out of (off-budget) balance sheet accounts have all been returned to the budget.
We probably dodged a bullet, and by that I mean city administrators have reversed a corrupt trend that eventually could have rendered meaningless the annual DeKalb budget.
But we still have the same council.
Fifth Ward Alderman Ron Naylor and 3rd Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash contended the city has held the line on property taxes because the dollar amount the city collects has not changed much in previous years.
“When I look at it from year to year and see that I’m paying the same amount from year to year, that’s not an increase,” Lash said. “I’m paying the same amount.”
David Jacobson, 1st Ward alderman, contended “holding the line” could be seen as a tax increase considering the drop in property values.
Jacobson is right, but in my opinion he is not going far enough. We should figure out how much the conscientious underfunding of the pensions during the past decade has cost us.
You see, every dollar we short the pension funds is a dollar that can’t be invested. I don’t know about you, but my assets have performed very well the past few years — it’s a shame that our pension funds couldn’t have maximized their earnings in this market.
That’s not to say that underfunding is the only problem with the public pensions. It’s not. But a council truly serious about “holding the line” for our sake would be doing a bit less self-pleasuring and a lot more work toward a solution.
Painting a Picture of DeKalb’s Pensions
The special joint meeting between city council members and the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) on Saturday filled in a lot of blanks, even for — or maybe especially for — folks who have reviewed the FY2015 City of DeKalb budget including its excellent Transmittal Letter.
One of the changes proposed by city manager Anne Marie Gaura is to split off community development services from Public Works and place them into their own department. Community Development would then handle and/or oversee the following:
Planning & economic development
Building services such as code enforcement
Community Development Block Grant administration
One part of the argument is that Community Development functions are not Public Works core competencies. Splitting them off would allow PW to better concentrate on the budgetary and strategic priority of infrastructure.
Also there is a track record to consider. As you are probably aware, the city has placed a building supervisor and two building inspectors on administrative leave as it debates their fates vs. the proposed reorganization. From the budgetary Transmittal Letter:
In the past year, the City has seen a number of very public, very unfortunate business closures and even building collapses. In order to protect public safety, changes in the City’s operations are essential.
On Saturday it came out (during the Workers Comp discussion, actually) that the police officer who was injured by falling through the floor of the old Wurlitzer building may remain permanently disabled. Continue reading A New Community Development Department
From a Northern Star article this week:
City manager Anne Marie Gaura said the finance committee typically reviews the budget and looks at policy recommendations and general fund balance.
“The goal is to utilize the finance advisory committee in the most effective means of how to benefit the budget and the community,” Gaura said. “It’s an incredibly talented group, and we want to make sure we’re utilizing their talents to the maximum.”
If we REALLY want to utilize the talents of the city’s Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) to the max, we need to move it past budgets. Continue reading Stop Wasting the Financial Advisory Committee on Budgets
— Aldermen Gallagher, Baker and Kammes should be ashamed of themselves for voting against receiving and filing the Hope Haven emergency shelter expansion proposal. Instead of saying “no,” maybe they could talk about what it would take to overcome their misgivings. But, that would be too much work, I guess, and most of all too much like right.
— Did I miss a vote on the City of DeKalb’s appointment of a new financial advisor? Where did he come from, and why on earth is the Financial Advisory Committee being excluded from the debt restructuring discussion?
I love being called “lunatic fringe” by a City Council member. I really do. Let them show the world how far this body has fallen in matters of decorum and discipline. Let them demonstrate how much they despise the people they are supposed to be representing. Folks ought to know exactly who’s responsible for running this city into the ground through ignorance, arrogance and denial.
My lunacy at last night’s Council meeting comes after the jump. Continue reading Notes from the “Lunatic Fringe”
In 2008, in the midst of a self-proclaimed fiscal crisis, City Council voted to allow the (former) Community Development Department to obtain a new SUV.
This is symbolic, see? The Police and Fire departments have had to put off replacing vehicles and some equipment since then. The Police Department, in particular, is getting nickel-and-dimed on old patrol cars that should have been retired last year, and the year before, and the year before that. But Community Development got exactly what it wanted.
And, as each new downtown brick paver is tamped into place, it must seem like a slap in the face. Continue reading City Budget: Mulling Over Police, Fire and More