Barb City Action Committee & TIF

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.

I think I’m onto something. Continue reading Barb City Action Committee & TIF

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.

Local EAV and TIF Performance

DeKalb County has placed online a variety of property tax information at DeKalbCounty.org. Among the reports are breakdowns of Equalized Assessment Value (EAV) by type of zoning, which include farm, residential, commercial, industrial, and railroad properties.

In City of DeKalb, the two top property tax-producing categories are residential and commercial. You can see below that residential and commercial losses in EAV have driven an overall steady decline since the Great Recession, until last year when commercial property saw a slight rebound (residential again lost a little value).

[easychart type=”vertbar” width=”430″ title=”City of DeKalb EAV in Millions” groupnames=”Total EAV, Residential and Commercial EAV” valuenames=”08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15″ group1values=”757, 749, 702, 669, 608, 549, 523, 526″ group2values=”695, 685, 643, 611, 555, 499, 474, 476″ minaxis=”473″]

I also checked EAV in the tax increment financing (TIF) districts, because there is no more important sign of success for a TIF district than increased EAV.

[easychart type=”vertbar” width=”430″ title=”DeKalb TIF EAV in Millions” groupnames=”TIF Total EAV, TIF 1 EAV, TIF 2 EAV” valuenames=”08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15″ group1values=”111, 105, 94, 87, 74, 63, 58, 58″ group2values=”77, 76, 70, 67, 62, 57, 54, 55″ group3values=”48, 48, 45, 42, 38, 34, 32, 32″ minaxis=”31″]

TIF EAV has fallen worse than DeKalb’s overall, and (though not explicitly shown in the chart) has gone from a share of 15% of total city EAV to 11% during the time period we’re looking at. Considering that both TIFs are set to expire in the next couple years, this poor performance should prompt us to question seriously DeKalb’s judgment in selecting redevelopment projects.

College Town Partners is All About TIF

Yes, “is.” Emails obtained by Michael and Misty Haji-Sheikh of Preserve Our Neighborhoods show that even though collaborators ultimately rejected formal incorporation of College Town Partners in May 2014, the intention remained to suck sweet, sweet tax dollars out of City of DeKalb via Tax Increment Financing (not even getting into NIU and use of the NIU Foundation, though we definitely should at some point). There is no reason to believe the schemes were dropped, especially now that the mastermind has wormed his way onto the NIU Board of Trustees.

Yes, “schemes.” How else to describe the dreams of a local banker (and longtime Sanitary District trustee, by the way) to transform a college-adjacent neighborhood and get DeKalb to pay for the project. He apparently is so persuasive that the other officials involved, including our mayor and city manager, went along with him for months though their status absolutely precluded participation as partners in a private entity intent on spending public money over which they exert control. It was a gargantuan conflict of interest; we should find ourselves shaken by the apparent ignorance or disregard of their duties to the public while they spent oodles of staff time and other resources to bring them to the brink of a formal agreement without council’s prior authorization.

Indeed, we’ve not heard a peep of public discourse that hasn’t been tied to citizens’ dogged pursuit of information.

Click here to read the email indicating that College Town Partners might have been buried, but not outright killed. If the Shodeen people ever get their hotel and apartments approved, look for CTP to dig up the undead baby, give it a costume change and present it as the inevitable and desirable retail counterpart to Shodeen’s residential development.

Related post: Tim Struthers Gave DeKalb’s Mayor Talking Points When the College Town Partners Story Broke

School District Trying to Double-Dip City TIF Dollars

Monday’s city council Committee of the Whole (CoW) meeting includes this:

Consideration of a request by DeKalb School District #428 for TIF assistance in the amount of $2,000,000.

The assistance would go toward construction-related improvements to two schools that lie in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, Founders Elementary and Clinton Rosette Middle School.

Here’s the thing: District 428 already gets a substantial portion of TIF funding, in the form of a surplus that is declared and distributed each year. What’s more, the surplus scheme was specifically engineered to a) make sure the big property tax players signed on to the amended, extended Central Area TIF of 2008, and b) to replace just this sort of intergovernmental agreement between city and school district. Continue reading School District Trying to Double-Dip City TIF Dollars

Resident Officer Programs: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

**UPDATE 11/24** Via email, the city still maintains that the redaction “facially” applied to its FOIA response. However:

[A]fter further discussion with the Police Department, we believe that the Resident Officer Program’s mission is furthered by engaging with the public wherever possible, and where doing so does not endanger public or officer safety. Accordingly, the City is providing an un-redacted copy of the record at issue as per your request.

Whether or not I would have prevailed in the state’s review of the redaction, the reversal is a good reminder that most exceptions to FOIA — assuming they’re properly applied — are allowed but not commanded.
______________________________

The City of Elgin has a nationally recognized community policing endeavor called the Resident Officer Program of Elgin (ROPE). Here’s the webpage. Links from that webpage take you to a map of ROPE coverage, as well as to pages devoted to each of five ROPE officer locations that include the resident officers’ photos, contact information and introductory greetings.

Oak Park has a Resident Beat Officer Program (RBO). Here’s the webpage. There are eight patrol zones; click on zone headings for the beat officers’ names, photos and contact information.

City of DeKalb has a Resident Officer Program (ROP). Here’s the webpage. The description identifies an Officer Burke who lives on the 600 block of North Eleventh Street, and there is a written description of the ROP territory. There is no map, no address, no photo or contact information for this or any other officer.

Part of this is about how much DeKalb’s $50,000+ website sucks, but there’s more to it. On Friday, I received an email from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer that read, “As you may know, the City utilizes multiple police officers in its Resident Officer Program (ROP).”

No, I did not know that. How could I? The city’s website mentions exactly one resident officer, and there’s nothing in the Chronicle archives, either. Unlike those of other communities I looked up, there is virtually no current public information about this supposedly extensive public program.

Indeed, what I found were a couple articles published three years ago, when Officer Burke moved into a home that City of DeKalb purchased and renovated with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds (an arrangement the city refers to as “enhanced” ROP). Continue reading Resident Officer Programs: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Post-Recessionary Trends & Responses

The City of DeKalb released its FY2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report last month, and as usual there’s plenty to digest. A large part of this report draws data from supplemental reports found in the back of the CAFR, some of which track the past 10 fiscal years and are therefore useful for understanding the lingering effects of the Great Recession on the local economy.

First up, I’ve prepared a chart of taxable sales. Retail sales taxes make up more than 40% of DeKalb’s operating budget — no other single revenue category comes close — so sales and the taxes they generate are important indicators of economic health.

The advantage of looking at the sales themselves instead of the tax revenues is that you don’t have to account for sales tax hikes, abatement deals and other “noise” in the data.

[easychart type=”vertbar” width=”420″ title=”DeKalb’s Taxable Sales in Millions” groupnames=”Locally Taxable, State Taxable” valuenames=”’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’13” group1values=”356, 377, 405, 415, 407, 367, 385, 384, 379, 381″ group2values=”514, 540, 582, 594, 590, 528, 542, 535, 529, 523″ minaxis=”355″]

Of course there’s a lot of overlap between state and local sales, but showing them both underscores the trend, which is this: Taxable sales have stabilized since 2009, but they’ve more or less stabilized at 2005 levels.

And it’s not just retail sales that have stagnated. DeKalb’s share of the state income tax is climbing, but so far has only made it back to 2008 levels. Utility tax revenue totals for FY2014 were less than FY2012’s.

Water sales were down by 5.2%. If you think about the combo of utilities and water falling, it seems likely that it can’t all be about plugging leaks and conservation. DeKalb’s likely still losing population.

City government, however, is bucking that trend. Continue reading Post-Recessionary Trends & Responses

“Conversation with an Engineer” by Strong Towns

The following is a production of StrongTowns.org.

Advisory:

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.

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.

Some of DeKalb’s Street Funding Woes Arise from Desire for Buildings and an IDOT Audit

The numbers are the amounts budgeted for streets combining two line items, Street Maintenance/Repairs (8632) and Street Construction/Reconstruction (8633). It does not include alleys or permanent street improvements (e.g., Taylor Street widening).

Keep in mind, what’s budgeted may not always reflect what’s spent, either.

[table id=84 /]

Observations:

  • The Motor Fuel Tax Fund is taking a dive.

  • Overall funding of street repairs and reconstruction has dropped significantly.

  • TIF 2 has only just recently become a major funder of street reconstruction.

  • Now I’ll explain what has happened in three parts.

    Part 1: The Motor Fuel Tax Fund used to hold both the state and local (home rule) motor fuel taxes, but the city was having trouble keeping up with other infrastructure needs and began placing the local portion into the Capital Projects Fund, where it has to compete with other projects besides road-related ones. (DeKalb has also dedicated some local motor fuel tax funds to the Public Safety Building Fund.)

    Part 2: The city doesn’t dare budget more for streets from the Motor Fuel Tax Fund because it doesn’t know how much is in it. Here’s the explanation from the FY2015 budget narrative:

    This fund has some outstanding obligations due to outstanding bills from past construction projects in the amount of approximately $1.0 million dollars. The City will also receive $198,673.00 from the Illinois Jobs Now Capital Bill. The balance in this fund is attributed to the outstanding obligations of projects that have not been closed out. These outstanding obligations amount to an estimated $1,888,455.73. Once the Illinois Department of Transportation completes the audit of this fund a greater understanding of the actual amount available will be determined.

    Part 3: TIF 2 can be used to catch up/make up for/cover up for the lack of funding to streets now that the fund has accumulated a $7 million nest egg for remodeling the city hall building.

    Related posts:

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

    FAC Using the Faulty Street Repair Numbers Too