Thoughts on the School Referendum

I voted last week. I voted FOR the school referendum. It was the consistent thing to do. I believe that fabulous infrastructure, rather than give-aways, are what attract the types of industry we’d like to attract; that is, if we want DeKalb to be associated more with the Route 88 Research & Development Corridor and a bit less with the I-39 Logistics Corridor. It is also a better plan than what we’ve seen in the past, includes a high school which has always been a prerequisite, and ties in with the downtown revitalization and other renewal projects. Like I said: consistent.

That being said, I am very disappointed that the other communities in DeKalb Community Unit School District 428 do not feel the need to pay their fair share when it comes to impact fees. I am not a fan of impact fees but until we find another way to save ourselves from property tax madness and/or tax abatement heaven for industry it’s what we have to do. It really burns my donkey that Cortland might be getting a new elementary school despite collecting thousands less per home than DeKalb is. It is obscene that Malta will not be collecting anything at all.

And if the referendum passes, we’ll have lost any leverage toward equity.

12 thoughts on “Thoughts on the School Referendum”

  1. I am not a fan of impact fees but until we find another way to save ourselves from property tax madness and/or tax abatement heaven for industry it’s what we have to do.

    I think I resemble this remark, perhaps not as mildly. :-) I’m told Cortland has signed on to an intergovernmental agreement that comes as close to DeKalb’s school impact fees as a non-home rule community can. Malta has not, I’m told, and there is conflicting versions of why and if they will or won’t. Given Malta’s lack of infrastructure, location and the housing market I don’t think they’ll do much in the way of growing.

    One note on tax abatements/incentives (which I dislike as much as impact fees): Our economic development efforts (the entire county, really) is based on a recruitment strategy referred to as “on the come.” Site selectors primarily based on 1) location/proximity that most efficiently serves their customer base and then 2) risk management.

    In retail, for example, there’s a formula based on population, sales leakage, housing patterns, etc. There’s a minimum number of people that must live within @10 minutes of their parking lot. This, and most other small or micro market communities, sells their commercial sites to the selectors on speculation that those factors are on the come. Usually when you ask someone for a substantial investment tied to such a risk factor they’re going to ask you to pony up, thus abatements/incentives.

    I hope you are a “vote yes and stay involved” member, yinn. Actually, I know you are.

    Gonzo, cool link. Do you know of a good clean petition site?

  2. Sales leakage–is that the same as transfer sales? If so, then I’m following you.

    Thanks for adding the comment about home-rule. I knew that but had forgotten.

    I’ve heard something about Malta that doesn’t exactly please me, but as usual there’s stuff you think you know and then stuff you can actually confirm.

    As for staying involved, I note that Mr. yinn is highly interested in this area as well. Double trouble.

  3. Aside from the issue of paying more in taxes (which I despise), my biggest issue of this whole should-we-or-shouldn’t-we referendum is that it rewards the incompetency and short-sightedness of the DeKalb School District (as the father of a freshman at DHS, I agree that the kids deserve better), dating all the way back to 1986, if not further.

    When I moved here in 1986, everyone I met (who was trying to acquaint the outsider with the way of the world here on the prairie) kept saying that, within 20 years, DeKalb would be a “suburb” of Chicago. They cited all the development along the interstate, and the mobility of people escaping the city and the western ‘burbs.

    Okay, fair enough. But what did the school district do with any of the information, of which more and more was becoming available with each passing year? Nothing. They watched as the housing boom started moving west. Did they look at the projections, and make decisions? No. They waited. They watched as a development started in DeKalb, then another, then another.

    Still, they did nothing. In fact, they sold two schools. Incompetence, stupidity, and ignorance of the world evolving rapidly around them. And then, when the overcrowding morphed from theory to reality, they still did nothing.

    Until, of course, they decided that not one, not two, but three attempts at a referendum were needed in an 18-month span. Attempts that even a freshman business major at Northern could have told you were doomed to failure.

    Now, we have this referendum. I’d love to whole-heartedly support it … but by the time all of the fiddling and fidgeting over architecture and bidding and excavation and building, my daughter will have graduated … and in the meantime, will have “suffered” the overcrowding at DHS (which, if you look at the numbers … those kids there right now will probably have to be schooled in shifts between now and when the new HS is built … there’s no way they can’t be … not if you believe the referendum folks).

    I’m ranting/rambling, but it bothers me that everyone is up in arms about this, and that they want a solution now. Y’all had the past 20 years to be pro-active and get out in front of the issue, and you blew it. I’ve been saying it to anyone who would listen since my daughter entered elementary school.

    Folks, that’s like watching the tsunami roll up on shore, then deciding that a sea wall would be a great idea. This problem has been that tsunami on the horizon for the past 20 years …


  4. @Mac: I’m sorry Mac, which link?

    @Brien: I understand your position and frustration but are you suggesting that because people ignored/failed to heed the warning signs, future generations should suffer? This, because the benefits won’t be instantaneous? Maybe I misunderstood?

  5. Brien… great post. DeKalb becoming a suburb started at least 40 years ago. It was a “sure thing” when I-5 (now 88) was built. Crain’s featured DeKalb as a “boom town” in the early 70s and the speculation began.

    Water towers were added, sewer capacity expanded, roads widened, etc. But the school district was on its own page. Then the housing meltdown of the 80s came. Dave Witheft bought the only new construction house built IN THE COUNTY one year, from Milan Krpan. Schools were mothballed and sold. Painful staff cuts made and some genius came up with a catch phrase that got a fancy colored brochure made that said, “DeKalb is Exurbia.”

    But you know what? If we can get the citizenry to keep a high level of involvement we can right the ship and DeKalb really is sitting pretty. Unlike to the east, we do have a roads system (Peace, Gurler, Fairview, Bethany, Coltonville, Annie Glidden, Nelson, etc.) that can address traffic with continued proper planning (w/frugal curb cuts).

    We can put together a comprehensive plan that INCLUDES the schools (imagine that) and parks by forcing intergovernmental cooperation. And we can force, through the local democratic process, a Designated Fund to place some of the new residential and commercial construction EAV gains that will be used for property tax relief so this notion that more sharing the burden actually means something. There are quite few healthy staff recommended Designated Funds from the windfall of the housing boom in governmental units around the county. The citizens might as well recommend a Designated Fund to our elected officials, too, ehhh?

    Good news on the school front. The architects and the school board has not yet signed a contract. ATS&R seem like good folks and we can ask them firmly but nicely to use a sharp pencil. There’s been a lot of talk about Cadillacs and Fords with the school construction. I recommend a Volvo… they’re boxy but they’re good!!! In construction nothing is more cost efficient than a box so we’ve got to make sure we don’t get carried away with wings, atriums, and expensive stuff like that. But we have to make sure the school board (those with the only votes that matter on such things) hear our voice because when its election time we’ve got the only votes that matter.

    Interest rates being low and all there’s a chance to get the high school built by your daughter’s senior year. The district can’t sell bonds that they won’t use within three years of the bond sale. They need plans to build, of course, but we can’t let that process drag on too long because those kind of plans get exhorbitant. Not having to build around a school year and the students attending a school will certainly expedite the process.

    It’s all good.

  6. Gonzo… the spoof site was a cool link. I’ve had the guy urinating on my site… good therapy for when I goof up the code.

    I’m looking for an online petition source to help the “vote yes and stay involved” members make some impact statements to our elected officials. I’m looking for a script(s) that won’t produce spam mail for participants…

  7. Hi, Brien, good to see you.

    We moved here in late ’85 and for quite awhile just watched the circus detachedly and without much comment. It took some time for us to 1) get up to speed on what needs to happen policy-wise, which was not going to happen while we were going to work/school 80 hours a week; 2) plant enough roots that we felt we had a stake in it all; and 3) have some sense that we weren’t talking to a brick wall.

    For us, the situation seems quite different from when we moved here.

  8. Mac, the problem is that no matter where a petition is hosted the information entered is going to be in the hands of a person, no matter how secure the site appears to be on its face. The best bet, imo, is to host your own. You could use an email list or Google group. I just don’t know how seriously the powers that be really take online petitions. It might just be better to get everyone together for a pancake breakfast and take hand written letters in to officials in person. I will keep looking for you, I have only done a cursory search thus far. I bet I can find something credible and secure.

  9. There are three letters in the Chronicle today about the inequities in collecting impact fees between the District 428 communities as well as the potential “escape clauses” in the Cortland agreement. Evidently the person who first mentioned it to me is talking to other people about it.

    It’s kind of a shame that this couldn’t have been hashed out much earlier with some sort of consensus reached about whether it matters. Is it true that Malta won’t grow much anyway? Will Cortland’s refusal to collect transition fees make any difference? And so on.

    FWIW I’ve scanned both the DeKalb and Cortland agreements and will upload them at the Yahoo! SmartGrowth site. The link is on the sidebar.

  10. yinn… Cortland is not refusing to do anything. It is following the law. The following exerpts are from an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit in Newark in 2002.

    The court ruled that non-home sule communities do not have the same authority as home rule communities in exacting impact fees or developer contributions.

    Regardless of the desirability of such municipal exactions, it is clear that they may not be imposed without legislative authority. 39 DePaul L. Rev. at 646-47. A non-home-rule municipality such as defendant has only the powers specifically granted by law. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VII, §7; Village of Cherry Valley v. Schuelke, 46 Ill. App. 3d 91, 93 (1977). Thus, municipalities possess only those powers expressly granted, powers incident to those expressly granted, and powers indispensable to accomplish the municipality’s purposes. People ex rel. Ryan v. Village of Hanover Park, 311 Ill. App. 3d 515, 524-25 (1999). Absent such authority, a municipal enactment is void. Geneva Residential Ass’n v. City of Geneva, 77 Ill. App. 3d 744, 752 (1979).

    The court ruled that since schools are to the benefit of others, therefore not uniquely attributable to a subdivision, non-home rule communities are limited to land-cash ordinances as outlined in the state statutes.

    To be sure, the statute can be and has been read to authorize a municipality to require a developer to install or to pay for basic improvements such as sidewalks and curbs, but these items are directly connected with the development itself and are considered necessary appurtenances to any modern development. See Petterson v. City of Naperville, 9 Ill. 2d 233, 249-50 (1956). The requirement that a developer provide these basic improvements has long been recognized. M. Cordes, Legal Limits on Development Exactions: Responding to Nollan and Dolan, 15 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 513, 516-17 (1995)). A school, on the other hand, may inure to the benefit of others outside the development. See Cordes, 15 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. at 517.

    Cortland is sensitive to the following language issued by the courts in the Newark case:

    the requirement that a plat of subdivision be approved affords an appropriate point of control with respect to costs made necessary by the subdivision, it does not follow that communities may use this point of control to solve all of the problems which they can foresee. The distinction between permissible and forbidden requirements is suggested in Ayres v. The City Council of Los Angeles, 34 Cal.2d 31, 207 P.2d 1 [1949], which indicates that the municipality may require the developer to provide the streets which are required by the activity within the subdivision but can not require him to provide a major thoroughfare, the need for which stems from the total activity of the community.

    This case is local. The local court actually ruled in favor of Newark but that decision was over-ruled.

    In light of the considerations identified above, we hold that defendant, as a non-home-rule municipality, lacked the statutory authorization to impose impact fees for school construction. To the extent that it does so, its ordinance is invalid.

    Plaintiffs also contend that defendant lacked the constitutional authority to require the payment of impact fees and defendant does not contend that any of the general powers granted to it by the constitution supports the ordinance in question. Because of our disposition of plaintiffs’ first issue, we need not consider their alternative argument that defendant’s ordinance violates the equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

    The judgment of the circuit court of Kendall County is reversed.

    I understand there is a fight brewing in the local dems but for Bessie and Steve to pull this deliberate misleading is shameful.

  11. I cringe every time there is any kind of talk about Peace Road. Someone needs to pay attention and do long-range planning. When I moved across town in 2000 and Peace became my main escape route to Sycamore to avoid Sycamore Road, very few people drove on it. Without looking at IDOT’s traffic counts, I bet the number of people traveling on it quadrupled since then. Some folks take Peace from Sycamore to I-88, others take it to turn left to the Metra station, and the last main group of people use it to go between Sycamore and DeKalb. At least someone in Sycamore paid attention and widened it between Bethany and Route 23. I expect that whole area to become built up and with poor planning, it could become nothing but a ‘parking lot’ of traffic lights. I do not want to see that happen. I like frontage roads to keep traffic moving but I bet developers hate them because that reduces the amount of land they can sell. Someone was smart about putting in the strip mall with Competitive Edge, the Catholic Shop, etc. in with an entrance off Pleasant, almost like a frontage road.

    One way to plan for excessive traffics would be to follow Palatine Road between Palatine and I-294 as a sample. I cannot think of what type of road it is called but there are express lanes in the middle and quasi-frontage roads/quasi-exit lanes along the sides. The traffic in the express lanes continues to move along and those who need to get off do not make a 90-degree turn. Instead they move off to the side.

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