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.

Here are the facts:

FY2016 Adopted TIF 1 Budget:
Street improvements/maintenance budgeted: 0
Street construction/reconstruction budgeted: $1,000,000 Read the rest of this entry

A friend of mine asked a couple weeks ago whether there is some way to calculate how much growth there’s been of bureaucrats in city government. Like many locals, I know that the DeKalb city manager has been generally allowed to spin off new departments and hire new administrators without restraint, but we’re somewhat lacking in numbers.

The main question: Just how top-heavy has the city become?

My approach was to look at departments funded by the General Fund — and divisions of these departments, where applicable — with a view toward defining what makes each particular department/division primarily about administration, versus frontline public safety, versus none of the above.

The details of the methodology are placed at the end of this post.

Going back far enough that I could fully appreciate what Mayor Rey and Manager Gaura have wrought, I found that expenses in the General Fund (GF) have grown by $6 million since FY2013.* Roughly $4 million of it has gone to the public safety category of police and fire personnel ($2.65 and $1.33 million, respectively) and $2 million towards administrative functions in GF departments.

To break it down further, of the $2 million for admin, a bit more than $300,000 has gone into the administrative divisions of police and fire, and the rest of it to the city manager’s office and the creation/expansion of the HR, IT, and Community Development departments.

They’re getting more in terms of GF dollars, but so is almost everybody. Are the admins actually getting a larger slice of the pie than they used to? Yes. The administrative piece from FY2011 through FY2014 averaged 21.5% of the admin-public safety total, but now its share exceeds 26%.

Public Works gets no pie, particularly not its Streets Division, which has had virtually the same budget since the personnel reduction and organization of FY2011.
Read the rest of this entry

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Our city is suffering, and at least one of the mayoral campaigns is distracting us from beating incumbents to fix it. This could have dire consequences for turnout in a campaign season that, like this one, has not generated a whole lot of excitement.

I get it. It can be difficult to face, much less articulate, the nasty truth of the matter, which is that on a good day city hall is dysfunctional, and on a bad one it’s a sociopathic looting machine.

But everyone should still try, and on that count let’s put this baby to bed. Read the rest of this entry

***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:

Central Area TIF Report for 2016

TIF District 2 Report for 2016

The Joint Review Committee usually meets in December or early January, so the annual meeting will be nearly four months late.

A few weeks ago I argued that City of DeKalb will continue to fail at solving its problems until we elect leaders who understand and value public ethics.

The apparent intertwining of city business with Mayor Rey’s campaign business reinforces my position.

January 9: DeKalb city council approves the hiring of a consultant to help with asset management of city streets and related infrastructure.

February 6: Rey’s campaign committee files a Statement of Organization with the Illinois State Board of Elections. It indicates funds available in the amount of $1,211.80. Reported on the same date is Rey’s contribution of $5,000 to his campaign.

February 15: Rey’s campaign committee reports that John Pappas has contributed $1,000 to Rey’s campaign.

February 26: In response to a question from the audience, Rey announces at a candidates’ forum that his campaign has raised about $10,000 so far.

February 27: Rey’s committee reports that International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 150 has contributed $1,000 to Rey’s campaign. Many operating engineers build roads.

February 27: DeKalb city council approves rezoning for the Cornerstone development at First and Lincoln. The principal developer is John Pappas. The deal will include $3 million in public money for the project.

March 3: Rey’s committee reports that Oakland & Sycamore Road Development LLC has contributed $2,500 to Rey’s campaign. John Pappas is named as agent and manager.

March 15: Daily Chronicle interviews City of DeKalb public works director Tim Holdeman, who describes the department’s development of a pavement management program that may recommend the city spend $5-$9 million per year on its streets.

I’m sure none of this is illegal in Illinois, but it smells of pay-to-play, a game a lot of us don’t like.

DeKalb’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) is out. It covers Fiscal Year 2016, which ended June 30, 2016. The big news is the net pension liability.

Public safety expenses related to the operations of both the Police Department and Fire Department accounted for the largest share of expenses at $33,400,660 or 50.1% of the total. This represents a 50.1% increase from the FY15 total of $22,259,920. This increase was due primarily to the increase in the net pension liability for police and fire pension plans.

Yes, the city’s net financial position was reduced in one year by $12.4 million, and an increase in long-term liabilities accounts for about three quarters of the loss.

We can attribute a combination of factors in the increase in liabilities, not the least of which were investment returns coming in well under the actuarial assumption of 7.5%. However, today I’d like to focus on the growth of membership in the public safety pension plans, because it’s shocking to see them escalate like this while DeKalb itself is shrinking.

dyerware.com


Read the rest of this entry

***Note: This was originally published in June 2016. I am posting an updated version today, since the referendum ended up on the April 4, 2017 ballot instead of last November’s.***

The DeKalb County Health Department is trying to persuade our county board to place a referendum on the November election ballot to begin levying a property tax specifically for health services.

If this referendum does appear on the ballot, the most pressing questions for voters must include evaluation of needs, and of DeKalb County’s stewardship of our money.

Turns out, I have an example related to the latter for you to consider. Let me introduce you to Cindy and Ed. Read the rest of this entry

The Other Messages Candidates Send

A few days ago, I described an observation of a mayoral candidate who apparently doesn’t want to hear your complaint unless you have the solutions already worked out.

This I take as disregard for the oath of office, specifically as concerns equal treatment for all. Read the rest of this entry

The Chronicle has published a letter to the editor that caught my eye. It’s about local candidates and their positions on the issues.

The words that they use may change, but the rhetoric is the same.

The writer goes on to list the same old, same old: DeKalb-NIU relations, easing of the tax burden, and jobs/business climate. He wants to hear specific ideas.

While I largely agree that some city candidates are hard to pin down, I believe the real issues in DeKalb are more fundamental, and require remediation before we can progress.

Here’s an example from Sunday. I attended the DARA forum for DeKalb mayoral candidates. One of the candidates took the position, in what struck me as a somewhat scolding tone, that residents should not share grievances unless they have the solutions already worked out. Apparently this person has already adopted city hall culture where citizens are separated into friends who have their attention, and whiners who don’t. Read the rest of this entry

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. Read the rest of this entry