It was a good session, as was last month’s, but at one point I had to laugh, and it was during the perennial make-DeKalb-more-business-friendly discussion.
I dearly wish more council members truly understood that friendliness is impossible under city manager Anne Marie Gaura. Unless you are one of a favored few, you run into a culture that not only disregards the basic tenets of good service, but systematically finds ways to make the going harder.
Alderman David Jacobson tried to explain this again Tuesday. He talked about “the hoops you have to jump through, and the games you have to play” as a local business owner.
Likewise, I’ve become an expert in the travails of the general public, and the latest example involves council’s establishment of a state-mandated “TIF interested parties registry” for the proposed new downtown TIF district. The TIF Redevelopment Act only requires that the city adopt “reasonable registration rules,” which this crew took as an opportunity to create something decidedly unfriendlier than what came before. Continue reading DeKalb can become “business friendly” when this city manager is gone
How much did the expansion cost?
Total cost was $25.3 million. At center was an $11.6 million Illinois State Library construction grant, along with funding from a mix of public sources (e.g., TIF funds from City of DeKalb), loans, and private donations to DeKalb Public Library (DKPL). State grants involve a local match, so part of the non-grant funding covered the local share. Non-grant funding also paid for extras that were not eligible to be covered by the grant.
What was the delay of grant funding about?
The library construction grant is released in four stages based on percentage of construction completed. If a portion of a grant isn’t released during a given fiscal year, it must be re-appropriated the following year. The library received chunks of the grant at 30% and 60% project completion, but release of monies for 90% and 100% completion were delayed during Illinois’ budget impasse. The outstanding amounts, totaling $4.6 million, couldn’t be re-appropriated until passage of another state budget.
Was there a real danger that the grant money would never be released to the library?
Probably not. According to DKPL, the state had already issued bonds specific to the construction grants, so they couldn’t be used for anything else. It was just a matter of re-appropriation when Illinois started passing budgets again. The immediate threat was a shutdown if the library couldn’t find a way to keep construction going. A shutdown of any length would have been expensive in its own right.
Why has controversy cropped up now?
In January, the state released the rest of the grant except for a final installment of $1.1 million. With millions now in the bank, DKPL faces the decision to keep the money or to keep its promises of 2015. At issue is abatement/rebate of some $971,000 back to property taxpayers, and the removal of the emergency property tax levy of $500,000. People who attended library board’s recent special meeting saw the board “leaning” toward remitting only a partial rebate and keeping the levy for operations. Either action would break a promise.
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.
***Update 8/12*** Added city manager Anne Marie Gaura and fixed clarity issues ~yinn]
As our city council prepares to discuss a revitalization plan proposal for the Annie Glidden North (AGN) section of DeKalb, we should be aware of the possibility of a “done deal” already worked out by NIU and private interests, promoted by city staff who are ready to sell it hard. As I’ve already explained:
Emails obtained from NIU via Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that in spring of 2014, then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas met at Campus Cinema with Chuck Hanlon, principal urban planner with Wills Burke Kelsey Associates, and arranged for Hanlon to create “a proposal for us that looks at the commercial strip along Hillcrest and Blackhawk, as well as a wider area in all directions to envision a different neighborhood.”
A hypothesis that the city has already secretly bought into a plan certainly fits with its top-down approach in the matter so far, and would help explain the exclusion of DeKalb Park District and other interested public bodies from discussions of the proposal.
Anyway, there are a lot more of these emails. Coming mostly from the account of then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas, they trace growing involvement of Nicklas and other public officials in private redevelopment and city rezoning issues from late 2012 through much of 2014.
This business involved “Neighborhood 3” of the three neighborhoods identified collectively as Annie Glidden North (AGN), so our purpose is to look not only at how city players have operated generally, but also at how events in the past might be driving today’s behavior.
Several of DeKalb’s city council members balked at making financial or other commitments to the STEAM center project until they have in hand a thorough analysis of its most important source of funding, the soon-to-be-retired Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.
Even the most worthy projects are subject to resource limitations, so a peek into the municipal wallet and thoughtful prioritization make good sense, and are probably the most important reasons to apply the brakes.
But there are other reasons, too. Here are three of them.
1. It’s not our job. It’s not automatically the duty of the city to pick up the slack on an NIU project, especially one that NIU itself has decided it can’t spare a dime for. Public safety and infrastructure are supposed to be the names of our games, but now the consultant and administrators are broaching consideration of involvement in site selection, governance, even operations. Boundaries, people.
2. The push is premature. This is a top-down pet project headed by city administrators who have clearly done most of the work, and last week’s special meeting was clearly about hard-selling our new electeds into supporting it. But there is no sign of any corresponding surge in public support. No organization has stepped up to pledge financial support for its construction and operation. It’s an entirely backwards process, which bodes ill for fundraising efforts. If STEAM gets approved at this point, we will all get stuck with the bill.
3. The TIF goal is unclear. As proposed, the project tells us little about ROI, which in a TIF district means raising EAV in the district. In fact, at least initially it would do the opposite, by taking another large property off the tax rolls.
I want to note that counil members David Jacobson and Michael Verbic have asked for financial analyses before (Verbic as a Financial Advisory Committee member), and they’ve been completely ignored in the past. The unified insistence on the TIF analysis is a welcome move, and I hope it means this council aims to reclaim its full authority in stewardship. Fingers crossed.
TIF districts have their own budgets in their own funds that are separate from the city’s general operating fund called the General Fund. DeKalb currently has two active TIF districts/funds, TIF 1 (AKA Central Area TIF) and TIF 2.
To summarize the situation: For FY2016, $1 million was budgeted for street construction/reconstruction in TIF 1. However, in the budget narrative for the half-year budget called FY2016.5, staff reported that they “[f]unded street improvements in the amount of $600,000” in FY2016, and in the annual TIF report to the state for that fiscal year, it was revealed that less than $75,000 was actually spent for street improvements out of that fund. Continue reading This is why you didn’t even know DeKalb failed to spend streets allocations on streets
City of DeKalb budgeted $1 million for street reconstruction out of its FY2016 Central Area TIF District 1 budget, but actually spent less than $75,000 that year for all street work in the district, even though one official budget document indicates much more spending than that.
***Update 3/28: I’m hearing that some are having trouble with the links to the reports, so here’s an alternative way to get at them: 1. Go to the Comptroller’s Local Government Division page, and select the menu item that reads, “Upload TIF Reports.” 2. Scroll down to the bottom of the “Upload TIF” menu list and select “View Submitted TIF Reports.” It should be pretty straightforward from there.***
The TIF Joint Review Board will meet the morning of April 13. The annual TIF reports referred to in the agenda are here:
There are honest people of good faith who belong to the Barb City Action Committee. There really are.
However, it makes good sense to try to tease out the motives for any organized political action, especially one that launched itself out of nowhere and appears to have “shadow” members as well.
Recently I donned my thinking cap, closed my eyes, and envisioned a pack of jackals snarling at each other over the remnants of a carcass. This is the image that occurs whenever I think about TIF projects being pushed for approval by the DeKalb city council as the TIF districts approach expiration.
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.