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.

No, Daily Chronicle. The DeKalb City Clerk has Not Received a Raise

The compensation ordinance that will apply to our next city clerk has NOT received final approval. So there is no, or at least not yet, a “hefty raise” for the clerk as claimed by the newspaper today. It was only first reading. They only reveal this fact in the final sentence of the article.

The issue is scheduled to come back before the City Council for final consideration Oct. 24.

Until then, all compensation numbers are placeholders, and a lot could conceivably happen between now and then.

The mayor’s compensation is $22,500 and is not expected to change. The clerk’s compensation is $5,000. The proposed rise in compensation for the clerk is only up to $8,000.

What SHOULD happen is that council members, at the very least, take a look at how the office of the mayor and the office of the city clerk are the same. The mayor’s position is an elected, citywide, officially part-time position with statutory powers. The city clerk is an elected, citywide, officially part-time position with statutory powers. They have to get the same number of signatures to get on the ballot. They go to the same meetings and they sign the same documents. Continue reading No, Daily Chronicle. The DeKalb City Clerk has Not Received a Raise

Schrader: Loss of KishHealth Holdings, a Community-Owned Asset

**Update: More about this now posted at Barry’s Blog.**

KishHealth System officials answered questions from the public following a presentation before the DeKalb County Board last night. While the Daily Chronicle chose not to address an exchange regarding who owns the real estate where Kishwaukee Hospital operates (as well as other KishHealth System holdings acquired by Northwestern Medicine), journalist-cum-blogger Barry Schrader did. Here’s an excerpt from an emailed statement (my emphasis added): Continue reading Schrader: Loss of KishHealth Holdings, a Community-Owned Asset

More on the NIU – Ron Walters Travel Funds Controversy

Earlier this month, the Daily Chronicle gave us an update:

An audit of the university in March, completed by Illinois Auditor General William G. Holland, found that NIU had improperly reimbursed [Ron] Walters and also didn’t comply with a variety of guidelines for internal control and processes related to procurement and contracts.

Walters had received $31,945 of travel compensation. which shouldn’t have been provided because the cost was from traveling between the university and his home in Washington.[sic]

“Travel expenses between an employee’s official headquarters and home are not reimbursable,” the audit reads.

What the Chronicle did not explain was why Walters is refusing to reimburse the university. Luckily for us, a citizen requested records under the Freedom of Information Act pertaining to Walters’ work for NIU and has shared them.

I’ve placed key documents that tell the story here.

FAC Using the Faulty Street Repair Numbers Too

Last night DeKalb’s Financial Advisory Committee began the work of figuring out how to pay for the claimed need of an additional $6.6 million per year for street repairs.

Unfortunately, they are still using the same faulty numbers — faulty in the ways I explained here.

If the FAC is working with bad numbers, so is the Chronicle. Here’s what they’re saying today:

This year, the city will use $1 million in TIF funds to pay for street repairs, City Engineer John Laskowski said. TIF districts allow the city to divert property tax money into a special account that is used to rehabilitate blighted areas. Another $400,000 to be spent on street repairs will come from the local gas tax. The city dedicated another $100,000 to pay for sidewalks and alleys.

The Central Area TIF district, which covers downtown DeKalb and Sycamore Road, will get $500,000 in street repairs this year. It expires in 2020. A second TIF district that covers a portion of the city between Lincoln Highway and Taylor Street is responsible for $500,000 and expires in 2018.

Again, as pointed out in the earlier post, the Chronicle is not distinguishing between maintenance/repairs and road construction/re-construction; TIF 2, for example, doesn’t even have the line item for the maintenance portion (and, until last year, the city rarely budgeted for street reconstruction in that fund and never to the tune of half a mil). Also, there’s no mention of the state motor fuel taxes going to roads (Fund 10), just the local taxes.

Now I’m going to show you what’s in the city budget for the current fiscal year (FY2015). The table comes from data found on pp. 144-155 of the PDF file.

[table id=83 /]

There’s also approximately $40,000 tucked into the Public Works budget for streets and alleys.

At any rate, I don’t get it. If you’re talking strictly from a repair/maintenance standpoint there’s a mere $300,000 budgeted for it. If you’re including street reconstruction, you have to include the amount of the Motor Fuel Tax Fund as well.

I’ve got another table for you, coming up sometime later today.

So DeKalb Has a Streets Problem — Is TIF or a Sales Tax Hike the Answer?

This week’s number: $33 million

The city’s streets could need $33 million in repairs over the next five years, but a key funding source for the work will dry up by the end of the decade.

That has city leaders considering options including increasing the sales tax to generate more revenue.

Of the $1.5 million the city plans to spend on streets this year, $1 million comes from the city’s two tax increment financing districts. TIF districts allow the city to divert property tax money into a special account that is used to rehabilitate blighted areas.

However, one of the city’s TIF districts expires in 2018, while the other will expire in 2020, meaning the only source of funding left will be the local gas tax.

The above account is incorrect and incomplete. Let me count the ways. Continue reading So DeKalb Has a Streets Problem — Is TIF or a Sales Tax Hike the Answer?

We Don’t Know if Dogs are Biting People in Forest Preserves or Not

The key word must be “verified,” though nothing in the story actually is.

“Over the years, the amount of dog-walking has increased, so we’ve been getting more complaints and more problems,” said Terry Hannan, DeKalb County Forest Preserve superintendent.

Although Hannan said more people have been bitten in DeKalb County’s forest preserves during the past few years, Greg Maurice, director of health protection at the DeKalb County Health Department, said he hasn’t received many reports. Maurice supervises DeKalb County Animal Control, which documents and follows cases of dog bites.

The health department has written a couple of off-leash tickets to people at the county’s 17 forest preserves during the past few years, but no verified dog bites at county forest preserves have ever come into the health department’s office, Maurice said.

I’m confused. Are dogs biting, or not? Are reports of dog bites passed on to the health department, or not? Seems like a couple more questions might have cleared this up.

Related:
Illinois Animal Control Act

How Much Change IS Afoot in DeKalb City Government? Maybe Not Enough

The Daily Chronicle notes that new DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura has made some personnel changes. I am particularly gratified by this statement:

The moves all deal with personnel issues, a subject on which employers are generally limited on what they can say, but they could have announced they happened.

The Chronicle’s actual main point is that Gaura is shaking things up and it looks like the aim is to save money while improving service. This is something I’d love to embrace 100% but I keep getting hung up on the city’s failure to communicate these decisions until confronted.

By passing up opportunities to announce changes, DeKalb is squandering opportunities to rebuild trust that previous city leaders destroyed through a culture of dishonesty and secrecy.

Speaking of which, have you seen the video of Saturday’s town hall meeting yet? Distrust and suspicion were recurring themes.

Mayor Rey has un-ironically declared on his Facebook page, “I see a better, safer and more transparent DeKalb.”

Yet DeKalb is a town that:

— Told no one that its finance director had resigned until specifically asked about it more than a month later.

— Refused to announce the location of its warming center during the worst of the winter.

— Allowed citizens to find out the hard way last week that there was no one available to issue the permits that they needed.

The above events don’t reflect a better, safer or more transparent DeKalb. They are anti-public relations and furthermore enough removed from common sense as to have ventured a toe into the realm of the bizarre.

Towing Fee Account Story Generates More Questions

The Daily Chronicle may have just published one of the most important investigative reports ever written about City of DeKalb finances.

Since early 2013, the DeKalb Police Department has used around $300,000 of the $350,000 collected in administrative tow fees to buy a wide range of items outside of its regular budget.

There are a lot of potential issues arising from this revelation, from whether the tow fee ordinance is fair to how much the equipping of the new police station might have gone over budget. The article seems to suggest that, right now, the city is mostly concerned about the administrative tow ordinance itself coming under attack. But to me, we’re taking our eyes off the prize if we stray too far from the simple fact that $300,000 in public spending was not publicly accounted for in 2013.

I mean, doesn’t it make you wonder:

  • What other accounts holding fines and fees are used for “extras”?
  • How this might relate to the $3-million-plus “excess expenditures over budget” that the city’s auditors found noteworthy?

  • Why the city has begun changing the policy even while insisting there’s nothing wrong with the status quo?
  • That’s just for starters. So I’m going to keep my eyeballs on this for awhile, yes, yes indeedy.

    Now We’re Getting Somewhere

    Turns out, City of DeKalb’s press release this week about hiring outside help has a backstory, and the Daily Chronicle has unearthed it..

    New DeKalb City Manager Anne Marie Gaura wants the city to hire an outside financial expert after staff recently broke rules for making purchases in excess of $20,000.

    First, the council approved the changes to city hall that included moving the finance office to the first floor and upgrading security. When city staff sought council approval, $14,000 in work had been completed, but the project was slated to cost $36,000. During their last meeting, aldermen approved a $22,864 expenditure for fitness equipment at the police station that had already been purchased using administrative tow funds.

    “This just goes to the long history of the organization,” Gaura said. “It wasn’t anything intentional, but it indicated to me we need to improve our purchasing policies.”

    Wow, dig it. The new city manager is saying it’s not OK to come to council for authorization to exceed the $20,000 spending authority after the fact. Think about what that might mean for fiscal discipline and accountability in DeKalb if the city manager is a stickler for the rules.