The Start of a Revolt

Yesterday I noticed that Mac has a poll up for the moment at his site asking, “Should home rule be repealed in DeKalb?” Then I read this:

On Monday, the DeKalb City Council passed a proposal that amounts to a huge increase in taxes – an increase in the sales tax paired with a new gas tax. With the exception of Alderman David Baker (who voted against the sales tax increase on its first reading March 10 and was not present at Monday’s meeting), the city council seems to lack concern for the burden taxpayers have to deal with in this town.

I took the time to contact council members Kris Povlsen, Donna Gorski, Victor Wogen and Ron Naylor and asked them to consider other options (cigarette taxes, liquor taxes, higher hotel taxes), but no, they just forced through the sales tax increase and new gas tax at record speed without any real consideration of these alternatives…What happened to the old days when there was a lengthy public comment period before tax increases were passed? I asked Wogen why he and the other council members ignored the opinions of residents who spoke before the council, and he replied in writing, “The only people that show up to council meetings are the ones that like to complain.”

Revoking home rule, as was successfully done in Rockford, would force this “tax and spend” city council to come to the voters to approve tax increases. Voters, this is the first of many taxes still to come (property tax, electricity tax and another tax to fund the new police station).

It’s hard work right now, not to get all snarky on the City since it kind of pushes my buttons to hear that I am motivated to attend Council meetings only because I’m an inveterate whiner or just want to get on TV (which actually was said to my face once at City Hall, though neither by alderman nor mayor). But I will contain myself, as certainly Mr. Wogen is in a class almost by himself when it comes to disrespecting the voters. No, what I want to address is the fact that this Council is on the wrong track and they must stop listening to the staff for a moment and really hear the taxpayers, who are working themselves into a revolutionary frame of mind. Next up: open letter to the Council.

Dear Council:

We greatly appreciate your efforts to keep everything the same, but that is not where our heads are at. Who says we desire the same levels of city services at all costs? Times are tough and going to get tougher and we just voted a big property tax increase on ourselves for the sake of our schools. To add to the burden is to chase after the wrong goal. We want cuts to the budget, big ones, as big as it takes, and no new taxes. The only people who do not want these cuts are the entrenched and pampered bureaucracy with their primo coffee service and top-of-the-line cell phones and fancy business cards and big holiday country club bashes. The same bureaucracy that’s been on a hiring spree for the past several years. The same bureaucracy that keeps the thermostat up high and still hasn’t caught onto using both sides of the copy paper. The same bureaucracy that’s going to trip you into the toilet if you don’t get harsh on their vibe real quick.

Sincerely,
Overburdened DeKalb Residents
AKA “Killjoys”

42 thoughts on “The Start of a Revolt”

  1. Yinn,
    Hopefully we will see each other at the budget hearings where citizens can suggest what services to cut. Certainly some of the expenses you mention in your ‘killjoy’ letter should be cut, i agree. But these total in the thousands or at most hundreds of thousands. To bring the budget back into whack either more revenue is needed or serious cutbacks in services. The question for the public is what services to cutback and how in a budget that is about 70-80% spent on protective services. I know council members are asking themselves these questions. We all need to join in.

    Equally serious problem: core expenses are in the employees most are unionized and most of the union contracts, though not all, have a way to go before they expire. That’s a difficult situation.

    But Yinn what you are doing is what we all should be doing. Examining the budget for smaller items that can be cut, then asking ourselves what services are and are not needed and then what would happen if we cut these services. Do we want an extra 2 minute time in police response, 3 in fire, have it 3 days rather than two to plow after a storm, have a water leak repaired in a day rather than in hours. Sensible people can answer yes to any and all of these questions but it is only in reducing service levels that we can save large amounts of money. A truly difficult situation.

    Less seriously, the best picture that ever was taken of me was by a reporter when i was on some commission. Maybe that’s why I go to meetings :)

    herb r

  2. yinn… thanks for the report and please keep it up. I also read Mark Charvat’s letter. Yes, the revolt has started. That’s what happens in this country when there is taxation without representation. I think we take great offense to that.

    Wogen’s remark infuriates me. So does it to hear the “be on TV” snide remark made to you. The video of the meeting is now online. It is sickening to hear the mayor of our city accuse life long residents, good citizens, of collusion on gas prices just because they try to explain their position on possible repercussions of eating two tax increases while trying to compete with Big Box Corporations. How do they know gas prices so quickly? Go to my website and see local gas prices, the Chronicle has the same component… its called technology.

    Perhaps it is collusion to raise taxes without a public hearing (listen to Donna Johnson at the end of my address to council explain), to exclude the business community from considerations, to hold a special meeting without ample notice, to allow proponents unlimited access and time yet have the city attorney keep a stop watch only on those who opposed the tax hike. How stupid do they really think we are.

    The special meeting to announce the tax increases was held March 4. Twenty days later the primary ones were passed. Special meeting, first reading, second reading, passed… in 20 days. I wonder if Greg Sparrow ever moved so quickly. I wonder if the Memorandum of Understanding between the City and its unions was discussed behind closed doors in executive session. I wonder if we have one city council member brave enough to speak up.

    So, the spinsters are obviously at work. Let’s redirect attention to small items in the budget. Let’s “allow” them to “participate” in workshop sessions that start at 5:30pm at the end of May right before the budget must be passed in early June. Again, how stupid do they think we are.

    I hope you join the effort to put a repeal home rule authority in DeKalb on the Nov. 08 ballot as a binding referendum, even if you were to vote against doing so at that time. Doing so will force the kind of public discourse we desperately need to put the power back into the hands of the citizens. Clearly this needs to be done.

    Great letter Ms Kiljoy! :-)

  3. I am completely angered by the double speak I got over the past few weeks by Ald Gorski. She used to be one of the good ones. She initially promised in her campaign against former Ald Knowlton me she would be very mindful of concerns of the constituents in her ward in respect to tax issues. She broke Her promise. As far as I’m concerned, She turned out to be The TROJAN HORSE” Candidate in the 7th ward.

    She continually feeds me the line…”Its so good you are getting involved with the process”…which is a pile of BS…She had her mind made up all along to support these tax increases. Apparantly, public input from her constituents fell on Donna Gorski’s deaf ears.

    In fact, if you review the tape of the 3/24 council meeting posted on the website..she was the 1st alderman to MOVE to bring both tax measures before the council…she couldn’t wait to impose this tax increase!

    I supported her in the last election..BIG MISTAKE! I don’t care who her opponent is in the next election…I sill do my best to campaign AGAINST HER

    In addition, as I Stated in my letters to the editor in Both The Midweek and The Chronicle…HOME Rule in DeKalb must be abolished! If anyone is interested in getting together to further discuss this contact me at:

    markcharvatATyahoo.com

    Mark

  4. Welcome, Mark! I made one slight edit to your comment, changing @ to AT, which seems to disrupt the spammers a little.

    Donna Gorski is also my alderman. I agree, at first she was very responsive and I believe she is still a good watchdog when it comes to issues limited to the 4th Ward, but often not those concerning the whole city, including the latest tax issues.

    What I didn’t like about Mike Knowlton was that he went along with Sparrow on EVERYTHING. But now we have a council that, instead of rubberstamping a mayor, goes along with the city manager & his friends. They might be good people, but their interests do not always coincide with ours!

    However, I am not convinced that repealing home rule would correct the problem. At this point, I’m only observing that taxpayers are livid and not willing to wait until the next election to have an impact. I am not against the idea, either, just need to do some homework before making up my mind.

  5. Mac, your response to the stopwatch thing was priceless.

    BTW, I would support such a referendum–as a potential wake-up call–no matter how I’d end up voting on it.

  6. Bloggers,

    I am sorry for the comment about citizens who show up for meetings being there only to complain. That was said with a little anger, while trying to communicate with Mr. Charvat through e-mails. He has totally misunderstood the content of the e-mails. I have saved them and would gladly show anyone copies of them. I never said that “one perecent of the people knew about the tax increase”, I said “that I polled over 100 people, and only one person knew the tax rate”. I also did not say “that I only represent the third ward”, I said, “that every decision I make effects me and my family, I’m not rich, I live in the third ward”. I also believe that we need to quit being so reliant on sales tax. I don’t have the answer as to how, yet. I believe that this current council will review this at six month intervals and try to lower the sales tax rate. You can hold me to that. I can be contacted at home 815 517-0384 or cell 815 405-4837. I would welcome any input.

  7. One more comment regarding Ald Wogen and the City Council. I want to correct a comment I made regarding a comment attributed to Ald Wogen in reference to his support of the sales tax increase..

    I wrote in the Midweek….

    “Mr. Wogen told me that only 1 percent of his constituents were aware of the impending tax increase, and still, he was in favor of forcing these two taxes through”

    The actual words Ald Wogen wrote in the E-mail to me were:

    “I polled over 100 people in this community, only 1 knew the sales tax rate. ”

    I mistakenly substituted the word INCREASE for the word “Rate” in my letter to the editor.

    But still, this further proves my point that this city council (in reference to the speed at which they SHOVED through this sales tax increase down our throats) did not allow sufficient time for the public to be fully educated on the subject.

    The “Dekalb Tax 6” ,otherwise known as our Alderman, should be ashamed of themselves for their deceitful methods of taxing us to death!

    Ald Wogen and Ald Povlsen in separate phone conversations to me on Wednesday 3/28, PROMISED to put into writing (into the Council Agenda so) EXACT DATES for this tax to be reviewed) If it is not in writing, it will not be done. Please KEEP YOUR Promise! Former Ald Knowlton made a similar promise to review the last sales tax increase and did not.

    IT MUST BE IN WRITING in the AGENDA!

    If it’s not, then this will be another lie.

    Additionally, Ald Wogen acknowledged and apologized to me for his comment:

    “The only people that show up to council meetings are the ones that like to complain”.

    I did confront him in an E-mail regarding this comment , Prior to my letter to the editor, but he chose not to respond. He only responded AFTER my letters appeared in both The Chronicle and The Midweek.

    HOWEVER, I do feel that most of the Alderman don’t seem to give a hoot about those who come before the city council…they never respond to any points made by the Citizen’s during comment periods.

    I strongly encourage everyone to watch these meetings and see the lack of concern for the citizen’s of this community being exhibited by your elected Alderman. Those who do take the time to go to the city council, I commend you, but it apparently makes no difference to the City council and that we are all just a “bunch of complainers”. The only people the City Council listens to is the misguided City Mgr Biernacki and his cronies, who, as far as I’m concerned, were asleep at the wheel and should have been minding the store.

    We need to take the Taxing Authority away from this City council and put it back in the hands of the voters. This can only be done with a referendum the REVOKE HOME RULE!

    PS: Ald. Bertrand and Baker did not and will not return any of my E-mails though this whole process and in the case of Baker, he would not return my phone calls, either. Secondly, Ald Bertrand does not list his phone number on the City Of DeKalb website….It’s good to know he likes to talk with his constituents…NOT!

    PPS: to the city attorney….Take your stopwatch, mail it to Hollywood…perhaps the sound effects department on a TV game show could use it. Nice way to make the citizen’s who speak before the council feel welcome…BUZZ your time is up! – Geeezzz!

  8. There is a world of difference between voting alderpeople out of office and or opposing taxes and wanting to revoke home rule. Home rule can be abused, certainly, but it is also provide people in localities with protection against the state that is far from responsive to local needs. As you think about the home rule issue, keep in mind the hold slogans about babies and bath water.

    More generally in thinking about politics it is vital to separate thoughts on what particular actors are doing from the structures that permit them to do so. Let’s get away from local examples and think of national examples. Both Bush II and Clinton had proposed changes in Presidential powers that supporters of Bush II and Clinton would want their person to have. To me though the question is if Bush II were to have these powers than so would a democratic successor and if Clinton were to have these powers so would Republican successor. I might want to vote Bush II (or Clinton) out of office but would I want Clinton to have powers that were put in for Bush II or vice versa. Unless the answer is yes, I am very hesitant about changing structures because of disagreement with policies.

    herb r

  9. My experience is that the mayor and alderman do respond fairly quickly. On a typical lobbying e-mail that i write I get 4 or 5 responses (Gorski isn’t on e-mail but she usually returns calls). Dave Baker is somewhat erratic in responding; Bert S. a bit slower. Others almost always acknowledge my comments and often offer thoughtful responses.

    At the meetings though, far greater clarity is needing in distinguishing between comments on ordinances (for which give and take is not conventional) and public hearings in which give and take ought to be part of the process. Legally the city has to hold public hearings on certain matters. For better or worse, council does not by law have to allow citizen comments on pending ordinances (though I would be very upset if they did not allow such comments)

    Herb R

  10. Just a note, despite the timestamp Mr. Charvat’s latest comment went through and appeared here before I approved Mr. Wogen’s.

    When I’m not at council meetings enjoying making complaints (and to me it’s less the buzzing and more the smirks that are troubling), I’m usually watching them on TV; and when it comes to appropriations made by this council, I can count on one hand the number of “no” votes made in the past year. So you will excuse my skepticism that anyone on the council is particularly careful with our money. But perhaps someone will surprise me when the other new taxes are discussed.

    When it comes to Ald. Simpson’s being unavailable, I think he’s been dealing with some harassment, including threats, from a constituent.

  11. Bush should have been and should be impeached and the presidential powers that allowed us to get in the quagmire in Iraq repealed which would then require a Declaration of War by CONGRESS before any such “preemptive” war is ever again launched. So the answer is yes. Repealing those powers may well have avoided Korea, Viet Nam, etc., etc.

    Now bringing it back to the local level we should recall the current elected board and repeal the powers they have abused. Or really more to the point, we should use the legal powers of petitioning as citizens to repeal home rule as a tool for analyzing its value and for holding public servants accountable for its wise and legal use. Let them make their case and then decide.

  12. For a less biased view of home rule, certainly not as immense in BS…

    http://www.citizenadvocacycenter.org/Ed.%20Brochures/homerule.htm
    is an excellent website that is neutral on home rule. If you are a citizen advocate and want to get home rule passed in your community, they have info to help you. If you want to repeal it, they have info on that too.

    http://www.fixhomerule.com/ is another site to provide background info on home rule. The authors are also trying to make voters aware that 2008 is that once in 20 years chance to make changes in the Illinois Constitution.

    As for homerulenow.com it appears that there have been some credibility issues. The Rockford Register Star evidently had a column that was informing its readers on the merits of Home Rule written by Jim Thacker, whom they identified as a political consultant and columnist. It was later revealed that the RRStar donated $3500 to Empower Rockford. And later still it was revealed that Thacker was the campaign manager for Empower Rockford. SOURCE: http://www.philpash.com/?p=updown&a=inc&page=u102405 (middle of page: Double Whammy)

  13. Herb- That website you point to is very “one sided” and sponsored by a group who’s mission is to return Home Rule In Rockford. In DeKalb…We Need to do the opposite – REVOKE Home rule!

    Rockford Voters Voted to have Home Rule in Rockford rescinded. Rockford residents, in 1983, had it up to here with high taxes and did something about it! They returned the taxing authority back over to the citizens…and Stripped the power from their incompetent city council. Without home rule authority if there is a need for a Tax increases, it’s the VOTERS who will choose to do so, not the politicians.

    As much as I DISAPROVE of the recently passed School referendum that voters were pressured and fooled into approving in DeKalb…

    The VOTERS approved the tax increase! I respect the voter’s opinion…majority rules…so long as it’s not a 6-0 city council majority who seems to favor the interests of City Staff over the interests of the taxpayers.

  14. The group certainly is promoting one point. I thought i had sent the page that had the links to the enabling legislation etc. Thanks Mac for the other sites.

    Rockford has however been used by academics (sorry for book learning) as an example of how the end of local taxing authority accelerated urban decline.

    Mark, I am seriously worried about the baby and bath water problem with the home rule idea. You are another one of the people who is willing to use your name, thanks. Hopefully we will meet at various public hearings where I assume all of us will be looking for cost savings. Yinn on citybarbs has pointed out some very interesting questionable expenses, while boomer(some number) on the Chronicle blog has listed a bunch of possible savings that I have forwarded to staff and mayor.

    Any of these excesses should be eliminated. But to me eliminating home rule really restricts flexibility on many other items besides taxes.

    I’d rather see a full fledged debate on the services versus tax costs rather than simply shrinking government. For example, the more EMTs public safety has the more likely someone will be saved; but do we have too many and at what cost. Could police costs be reduced if certain crimes were no longer investigated, do the citizens want this to be the case.
    How much should the city subsidize social services that immediately benefit DeKalb citizens. I’m pro, but can certainly see other arguments. How quickly should snow be removed…. Can we attract could employees with a less expensive health plan? In recent years, capital expenditures have been really been reduced, is that what the citizens want.

    Anyway I’m looking forward to a debate.

    I’m a bit puzzled though that if you feel “voters were pressured and fooled into approving” the referendum (63% at that), why then would not voters be pressured and fooled one way or the other with the endless stream of referendum that eliminating home rule would require.

    Again sorry for the slant of the site. It was the highest one on my google search that looked non dangerous (in a computer sense) and it linked to the laws and history.

  15. Herb- Thanks for the comments…I, too, look forward to a substantive debate on the Home Rule issue. I really don’t want to dwell on the School referndum, as that is old news. However, to explain myself…During the PR campaign leading up to the last election, I was constantly left with the impression, from supporters of the referendum, who basisically told me that If Vote against the referendum…you hate kids! C’mon! The fact that the school board HIRED an outside PR firm to present their pro-referendum point of view, I have a big problem with that- especially if taxpayer dollars we’re used to pay the PR Firm.

    As I stated earlier, the VOTERS approved it so I can live with that (with a much smaller wallet to boot).

    We need to focus on returning the purse strings back to the Voters with passage of a referendum to revoke Home Rule!

  16. Mark… It was nice talking to you on the cell phone today. My battery is weak and I have to wait next week before I can renew my contract and get a free phone, so it went dead.

    I supported the referendum actively. The jury is out on whether voters were fooled or will be rewarded. We’ll know that after the schools are built and the bills are paid. I do think the school board fully understands the legacy their votes will have and would rather have a school named after them than to be remembered as the one’s who blew a $110 million cuz they could. I can tell you that they have been paying very close attention to the task in front of them.

    We desperately need a high level of citizen involvement in the school construction efforts. We need citizens to let their school board members know that Value Engineering and full disclosure on compensation for contruction materials/techniques written into the architect and general contractor contracts. I’ve literally talked to public construction experts from all over the country and that was their advice for price control and quality assurance. I’ve proposed this at the last school board meeting. The public should want full discourse on this.

    My slogan for the referendum was “vote yes and get involved” and, if the get involved part happens, I’d be happy to take credit for the entire 63%. If the citizens don’t get involved then its OK with me if you give Herb the credit.

  17. Herb, you must live a charmed life to think that everyone should always use their names when contributing to a site. Retaliation for speaking up is REAL. We would be missing out on a lot of great input if anonymity were eliminated–Boomer44 is a great example of that. As long as the tone is civil, the anonymous commenter will be treated as well here as the person writing under his/her own name.

    Anyway, to get back on topic, the “Fix Home Rule” site linked by Mac makes an argument that is appealing to me, that of amending the law to allow for charters/constitutions at the municipal level. That would cure the “baby and bathwater” effect you are worried about. Meanwhile I am now leaning a bit toward revocation, but will read more and probably see-saw for a few more days before making up my mind on how I’d vote. I will not change my mind about wanting a referendum on it, though; we really need to have the dialogue that such a move would bring about, just like with the water authority question.

    I did not like the tactics of the school referendum people, either. I like to be wooed, not insulted. Unlike the previous referenda appeals, I wasn’t going to be a skinflint this time, only a child-hater and dampener of school spirit. Still, it was difficult as usual to tease out the merits of the referendum amid the flimflam.

  18. I’m trying to figure this all out. Why not support a recall amendment that included local elected officials as well, as they have in California? Wouldn’t a recall election allow us to keep homerule and give us the opportunity to hold elected officials accountable if they fail to listen to their constituents?

  19. Mark,

    No PR firm was hired though one outreach person did join the school staff. His main role was in making sure the district had information when asked. I was on the active committee and 30 to 40 ordinary citizens showed up to the meetings. Entire campaign was volunteer funded, from 10 bucks from some about $120 from people like me to more from some supportive businesses. All web page stuff, graphics were done by volunteers.

    Both sides used emotional tactics “hurt the kids” on one side “but bankrupt those in economic stress” on the other. Fair enough on each side.

    Yinn, no offense meant with the anonymity. We know each other and understand problems that can occur from public name disclosure. I just get frustrated when i want to talk with someone and can’t do so, as often times people with whom i disagree stimulate wonderful ideas, either convincing me or forcing me to rethink my own. Met Ivan, Mac, yourself that way. I’d love to privately talk with people who want to share their ideas.

    Mac and Ivan have been participating in school decision making as promised by the school board. I started to do so (mainly to make sure the promise to mac and ivan and others was kept and it was) but quickly figured out I know nothing about construction contracts and less about building materials while mac, ivan and others do so opted out.

    Trees… Illinois I believe doesn’t allow recall I think.

    But as I said, I’d rather focus on the broader questions Yinn has posed on the budget as well as those listed by boomer on Chronicle blog. On some concerns I can justify the city action, on others no way can I justify the city, and some others just don’t know and will ask at the hearings. The one that is of most immediate interest to me is on contracting out, when it works, do we do it enough or not? What are its cost implications.

    Anyway if we can make this type of conversation more public and people do show up for the hearings we have already dramatically changed the city budget process. As Yinn mentioned several of us convinced the city to use the web to share better share documents and that is a step in public involvement.

    Mark, while I disagree with you on the home rule stuff, I too feel that staff has too much say in budget making and in setting priorities. i respect and like most of the staff, but I too want more responsiveness to both elected officials and citizens. Problem is, only a handful of citizens get involved.

    thanks for good dialogue and feel free to call me if you wish. I’m easy to find but following Yinn’s advice don’t put phone numbers in blogs.

  20. Mr. Wogen, as a resident of the third ward you are my alderman. I have an issue your statement:

    “I believe that this current council will review this at six month intervals and try to lower the sales tax rate. You can hold me to that.”

    At the special city council meeting held March 4, Rudy Espiritu walked council through a slide presentation that clearly showed, and was stated, that the six proposed tax hikes would not be enough to cover the growth of expenditures vs revenue after four or five years and that another round of tax increases would be required at that time. That casts serious doubt on your ability to have any effectiveness with your attempt to lower taxes in six month intervals.

    A public hearing, with swearing in of all who would testify, and ‘cross-examination’ rights extended to the public should have been held prior to the passing of the first two tax hikes, both of which require the changing or creation of an ordinance. The DeKalb County government and the City of Sycamore both conduct public hearings in this manner and so should the City of DeKalb.

    Without the benefit of a public hearing with sworn testimony the voters of DeKalb were deprived of the right to ask questions of the administrative staff responsible for a $1.8 million dollar deficit in the current budget as well as specific questions regarding possible repercussions of the increased taxes. By failing to conduct a full public hearing before voting on new and existing ordinances, especially those that are related to public funds, the City Council violated the trust of its citizens.

    I am asking you as my ward alderman to ask for a special meeting of the City Council and (if denied at the next regular City Council meeting) make a motion to reconsider both motions on the sales and motor fuel tax until such time that a full public hearing is held.

    That would go a long way in restoring public faith in our city council.

  21. Mac,
    Are public hearings really done with sworn statements. I’ve testified at many but never been sworn.

    I’d prefer doing what you suggest to Victor W during the budget hearings in May (as the tax increase has already been sent downstate because of April 1 deadline).

    Still, I support any and all public hearings on budget matters. Will require all of us to dig a bit. Want to get a discussion going on contracting.

    I’ve have written lobbying letters to council and mayor suggesting far more public participation (though I have not suggested undoing the increase, yet).

    Had a person more knowledgeable than myself example boomers and Yinns list. Reaction was similar to mine. Many good ideas that probably should be implemented right off. A few misunderstandings that should be clarified but probably the expenses are needed. And, a few ideas on which people could disagree i.e. yes you cut this expense if you don’t a particular service but some might want the service. In any case, public discussion of all this stuff is vital.

    I have gotten a positive response for more discussion from my alderman. I wrote him personally. Assume that you also sent your blog letter to V. Wogen personally.

    Again, could you elaborate on the ‘sworn testimony’ bit. Won’t swearing in, discourage some less experienced citizens from testifying.

    herb

  22. When the County changed zoning on non-incorporated land a public hearing was held. Ron Klein was the hearing officer. All who wished to speak were sworn in. Usually swear ins are done as a group.

    Sycamore has had several public hearings I have been involved in, usually pertaining to ordinances, annexations, etc. They have no hearing officer, the Mayor runs the meeting. Swear ins are done as a group. I would say that Sycamore, generally, has more public participation than does DeKalb. Without hesitation I guarantee that the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce would have participated in all public meetings related to a sales tax increase.

    I believe normal sequence it would be workshop, public hearing, first and second reading but I’ve seen different.

    If the sales and gas tax cannot be reconsidered and it was passed in 20 days without a public hearing I would say that is rather draconian but I will concede that it is a matter of perspective.

    I fail to see how a 15% cut would not increase efficiency.

    Nitpicking small items in the budget certainly takes the public’s eye off of the big picture. We might prevent a city employee from ever spending $15 at Hooters again but we might also errantly allow blame to be pushed to rank and file when this is clearly an administration snafuXexponential.

    It is curious to me to observe the dichotomy of your actions. You appear to be championing more public discussion of the “structural flaws” in the City’s budget, yet you are working quite hard on dousing a movement that involves citizens petitioning to place on the ballot a question that empirically addresses budget structure.

    Should people have a voice or not? Should we ask our own questions or simply accept your explanations? I say DeKalb is an educated community quite capable of thinking for ourselves.

  23. Yes, I push for public discussion on all issues and as you know put in huge amounts of time in doing so.

    Yes, citizens should testify.

    Yes, council needs to be more forthright in explaining why they either do or do not accept citizen ideas.

    That’s not inconsistent with wanting to preserve the current structure.

    Can we engage in the 15% debate? Right now (all figures approximate) general fund is about $28 million. According to staff, that fund will run a million and half deficit without the tax increase and the cutbacks the city has already accepted as part of the memo. The $28 million does not quite pay for the services we are already getting. Of that $28 million $4.3 million come from the sales tax already in place, not the new one, but the tax we’ve been paying for years. My fear is that if we lose home rule that $4.3 million about 15% of the city budget would evaporate. (Now that is 15% of a budget that is already in deficit. Can you point out the cutbacks to make up for both the 15% and the deficit (what another 7%) or so that can be made without just wiping out our local government.

    Such cutbacks would be mostly in personnel (as most of the GF budget is in personnel) and would have to involve public safety services.

    On your broader question: you are being a bit unfair. You are presenting arguments for ending home rule, I’m saying that’s too draconian. Of course , you don’t have to accept my arguments, you certainly don’t. I don’t accept yours but am willing to show you the respect of trying to engage in an argument on the matter rather than accuse you of imposing an idea.

    Hopefully many citizens will join in this argument. Mac, you have googled me in the past and know that I am an advocate of movement politics (in fact you’ve attacked me years ago for being such). You and Mark have suggested an interesting idea, one with which I respectfully disagree. But the very suggestion of any idea does not make it into a movement.

    Incidentally, you saw me show up and testify twice at the tax increase hearings. Yes, I did support, reluctantly the increase. But on the record and through e-letters I chided council for not having a process that encouraged public input. At the work session, that you missed, no insult, no reason to have been there, council adopted a way broader, mandated public participation process for the budget hearings.

    Suggestion: why not become a full participant in the fy09 budget process and see how many cutbacks, restructuring, and other cost savings can be introduced. Then, if that fails, think of the more extreme measures.

    If you answer, my response might be delayed. Part of your job is in public monitoring for yor fine web site. My work involves other matters that require attention today.

    Herb

  24. Trees, whether recall is a good idea or not, it’s simply not on the books at this time and there’s no push for it. There is, however, a mechanism for revocation and people willing to work to put it on the ballot.

    Mac, I can see both the forest and the trees. Blame for the mess in the first place goes to the administrative, legislative, and possibly legal departments. But to me, some of these day-to-day expenses show a continuing lack of concern and response considering all the chicken little hand-wringing. Besides, that’s all I’ve got unless we get invited into the process way earlier than what is planned for us.

  25. yinn… Good point. Actually, it’s an excellent one. My butt frost comes from just what you have described, the display of a continuing lack of concern. Despite these tough times when the school district showed us the need and ask us for UP TO (emphasis mine) $110 million we said yes, albeit Herb did so reluctantly. (friendly agitation)

    When the 20 layoffs at the City were announced many of us in the community expressed concerns, not because we feared a cut in services, but because we know some or all of the 20 who might have lost their jobs.

    So the administration met extensively with AFSCME and then met extensively with council (sans stopwatch). There must have been several Committee of the Whole (except us) meetings. And then they pass measures that will likely cost far more than 20 jobs in the private sector. Oh, they’re probably those darn low paying retail jobs so who cares?

    You certainly do see the forest and the trees. So I know you know what I am talking about.

  26. response to friendly agitation (then to my work).

    I enthusiastically supported the school referendum.

    On local budgets, I am far less enthusiastic, in fact, hesitant, just felt that the dramatic cutbacks not passing the tax increase would entail would be too much.

    I’m in total agreement with Yinn, Mac etc. about the need for far more citizen participation. Am pleased about and will participate in the newly expanded budget hearings and ask specific questions.

    Home rule now provides the city with 15% of its general fund, I think, plus gives it far more flexibility in allowing Dekalb citizens or at least the council to decide on local issues. Yes, the end of home rule would block some taxes, but it would also dramatically weaken the locality vis a vis Springfield. Even Greg whom I often opposed, returned my calls and he and I talked civilly. Somehow the same doesn’t happen with Blago and the Springfield crew.

    Mac, you’ve seen me keep promises (such as working hard to open up the school district FPC). My current promise is that if the council is not responsive to suggestions (some not all, people do disagree) made at the budget hearings I will go back and rethink the home rule issue. Won’t promise I’ll change, but will do serious rethinking, just as i did as I changed my views on certain growth issues.

    But try the budget hearings first. We really do need a public discussion on contracting, on salary levels and fringes of staff, on pro and con on social services, and on half a dozen other major issues. All the end of home rule does is lower the total amount of money available that the same type of council then would allocate. To me the more important thing is to get citizens involved in setting the priorities including the scope of government. That is a conversation long overdue.

    And thanks for the tease. I find these exchanges emotionally wearing and do appreciate it when you and I and others fight on issues and procedures not on personalities.

    herb r

  27. The vital economic point that I tried to explain to our Mis-guided Alderman prior to the vote was the fact that this sales tax was approved on the assumption that our local (and National) economy would forever be in this slump. Anyone with half a brain knows that throughout the history of our country, the economy has never been in a “Permanent” slump. It goes through peaks and valleys.

    It will eventually recover…history proves this to be the case.

    Down the road, when the economy picks up and people purchase more goods, the dollars generated by sales tax revenues will be much greater. The Alderman told me this was an emergency situation for the city that needed to be addressed with a “temporary” fix. Since when is a “permanent” sales tax and “permanent” gas Tax a TEMPORARY thing?

    The problem is, the city (with all the extra $$) will then find ways to spend this money by hiring new employees with big fat pensions and bloated health insurance plans that do not exist in the private sector. Then, say, in few years from now, the economy takes another downturn, and the city manager looks at the books and discovers revenues will not meet expenses –What happens here?…I’ll tell you… Another Tax increase will be proposed. It happened before and will happen again. It’s a never ending cycle. We must put his this to a dead STOP! It is getting out of control.

    Herb and Mac, as you are already aware, The city Manager has already anticipated another tax increase a few years from now, so the never ending cycle will continue if we allow it.

    The only way to put a stop to new taxes is to follow through on Revoking HOME RULE. This doesn’t necessarily mean an end to new taxes. It will do three important things:

    1. It will force the City council to be more open about budget issues and explain to the public why they were not watching the store.

    2. The City council will have to actually listen to us “Complainers”
    otherwise known as the citizens.

    3. The Council and mayor will have to convince the Voters that new revenues are absolutely necessary and get OUR approval by referendum at the ballot box.

    Let the public decide. A referendum to REPEAL HOME RULE in DeKalb is an absolute necessity.

  28. Mark

    What is your stand on the present sales tax that has been in place for many years, not the increase, but the current one? My concern is that revenue would disappear if home rule disappeared.

    I’ve also sent another round of e-mails to council reminding them of their promise of fuller participation.

    I’ve made inquiry with some experts on other practical matters that home rule cities can control (beyond taxes) and will report when I learn more.

    I too thought about the revenue situation if/when the economy ever revives. This is a bit complicated to express. First, I do want to join with others in finding expenses to cut and making sure the citizenry does buy the current service package or the service package is changed to match what citizens want.

    But what is not apparent from this discussion is the fact that the capital budget has more or less disappeared from the city budget as staff tried to avoid tax increases by deferring capital projects. If revenue were eventually to increase I would support spending some of it (not on operating stuff, not on higher wages) but on doing capital projects like roads, sidewalks, storm sewers and other stuff that has been deferred in recent years.

    I mean if boomer44 is correct we could live without an extra person on an extra truck. But I’m getting a bit put off having to swerve every few minutes while driving to avoid losing my car in a mini grand canyon and worrying about sewer backups caused in part because the storm sewer system leaks ferociously and needs repair.

    (I know I’m cheating wasn’t supposed to look at this blog until I finished certain work; thank goodness I’m my own boss)

    herb

  29. Herb-

    I Spoke out against the last sales tax increase last time to my former Alderman Knowlton and Former Mayor Sparrow…who already had they minds made up that they would support the last sales tax increase despite what their constitunts thought. As a result of their “taxing” ways, I then supported Knowlton’s Opponent in the last election (Ald Gorski). I even wrote a letter of support for her candidacy. Gorski made promises to me to mindful and respectful of the wishes of her constituents in matters related to the 4th ward, especially on taxes. I took her at her word….Big Mistake….In my opinion she turned her back on the citizens of the fourth ward and lead the effort to INCREASING the sales and gas tax. If you review the tape of the 3/24/08 meeting posted on line on the city of DeKalb website, you will notice that right after the Mayor asked for consideration of the tax increase, Ald Gorski was the first alderman to motion to consider the tax increase ordinance…with a lightning fast response. I strongly urge everyone in the 4th ward to contact Ald Gorski and ask her…WHY???

    But I digress..regarding the (Sparrow/knowlton) “Present” tax increase enacted a few years ago. I was against it then and am against it now. It, too, was supposed to fix a temporary problem. The City got the revenue generated from the tax and figured out more ways to spend it (more staff, high department head salaries, extra pensions and insurance, etc…). As I mentioned earlier the Alderman, at the time, promised to review the revenues generated from the tax at regular intervals to see if the tax was still necessary
    That never happened.

    For example: We had a few years where we had winters with less than average snowfall, thus the plow trucks and drivers we’re used less, thus saving overtime and manpower hours. Where did those savings go?….IT WAS SPENT on something else.

    The same thing will happen again with this tax go round.

    I’m not seeking an immediate reduction of the last sales tax increase. We can look at that one later after we see what we can cut from the budget now.

    Herb- I appreciate your dialogue and comments

    Mark

  30. I was at the meeting and saw who did what. Thanks for your answer. We do disagree on taxes, agree on need for more civic participation and we started out and still agree that al things in the current budget are up for discussion. (I’ll probably support more than you will but certainly not all that is in the budget; plus will aggressively push for answers to questions on what can be contracted, what certain costs really are etc.

    hope to see you at a meeting; I’m mid sixties and bearded, most regulars can point me out.

    herb

  31. I don’t read the blogs on a regular basis. However, I believe that with the tax increases there has been a lot of great input and ideas. I am planning a meeting for this thursday, April 3. Time and place to follow on monday. I would invite anyone and everyone with ideas to help us as a community get through this, to attend.

  32. I’ve been sitting back and reading many comments from City Barbs to DeKalb County Online and to the Daily Chronicle and I like the way the community is reacting to this tax increase and the fact that we, as citizens, have been left out of the process by our mayor and council. Mark is correct about the school referendum as I was a no voter for the 3 previous attempts. I believe this to be the answer for the children in our school district but surely wish this plan was brought up a few referendums back. To be honest, this may be one of the first times I ever voted for a tax increase.

    Like Mac mentioned previously, the school board has allowed an oversight committee to form and I am happy to report that it is mentioned often that the focus has to be the fact that we are spending “taxpayer dollars”. There is truly a genuine concern to do it right for now and for the future. However, we need your help if you have genuine knowledge in the commercial construction trades and have been involved in construction of a high type of building. To help us look at possible mistakes in drawings and bid specs as the building goes into its final drawings for bid.

    We also need the voters to push their school board members to remember Value Engineering. There are many ways to build a school. Several are pushing for pre-cast construction, such as the Yordon Center at NIU, Trumps high rise in Chicago, Plainfields 11 newest schools, and Naperville’s newest high school just underway. Safer for our children, faster construction, and up to a 30% savings over brick, block, and mortar.

    Full disclosure of materials as Mac mentioned would force the architect to tell us how much they would be making (percentage) if they pick a certain material or brand name product. The more expensive the materials used, the more money they stand to make. A savings on materials as long as they are the equivalent or better (as in case of precast) does nothing but help keep our costs down in many ways. So we need your help by bringing this up in your discussions about the school construction as it progresses. The work is far from done with regards to the schoo referendum.

    Now, on with the City of DeKalb. I am very upset that their main criteria was what I see, April 1, 2008, to get the taxes in the book. Rushing to decisions generally never have a great result. Much of these concerns that we have read on the blogs would have come out if the mayor and council would have permited at least a little bit more public discussion. Unfortunately Herb, I don’t think we have time to wait for the next round of aldermanic and mayoral elections. The fastest route for us at this time to make our mayor and council understand that WE ARE V E R Y UPSET with the ramrodding of this tax hikes along with the ones that are coming up.

    I know Boomer44 had a lengthy set of comments on the Chronicle site but I have to agree with the direction that Boomer was headed. I just cannot understand why City Manager Mark Biernacki and his immediate staff did not look into this type of cost cutting. Many of us as business owners and homeowners have had to do much of the same. Lord knows I can’t raise my prices whenever I want more money and I’m sure many of you cannot either. There are many things that one expects our government leaders to do first before resorting to tax increases, which to me, I’ve yet to see one that is imposed to be eliminated (not to be confused with bonds).

    I appreciate Vic Woggen wanting to meet the citizens now but the damage is done. The get together is about 3 to 4 weeks too late. I afraid that he and the council must vote the other increases in due to their agreement based on the Memorandum of agreement with the employee’s union.

    Herb, I’m sorry that you still have problems with storm water and sewage back up. That really has nothing to do with public works with the exception of them setting up the pumps whenever there is a lot of rain forecasted. The Sanitary District, separate from the City of DeKalb, should be testing and sealing their pipes from storm water. Illegal hook ups of sump pumps and gutter drains doesn’t help. City Engineering should be on top of this along with the road problems. City Manager along with staff should be looking for any and all Federal and State monies for road repairs. State of Illinois hasn’t been able to match Federal monies that Durbin and Hastert had appropriated for Illinois, thus a trickle down to DeKalb and area.

    We need to show the mayor and council that we are serious and the best way at this time is to Repeal Home Rule.

    Yinn, sorry about going long but I did throw in a little commercial for the school oversight committee along with an update. Thanks, Ivan.

  33. Ivan –

    Well said. Mac and myself are planning a meeting soon to put together an organizational plan/meeting to make this a reality. The time To Revoke Home rule is NOW. We cannot wait for a new council. When we set up a time and date I’ll post it here. If Anyone is else is interested…contact Mac or myself. Thanks for your comments.

  34. Ivan,
    A few technical emendations. Storm water pipes and their repair are city reponsibility and federal programs have been dramatically cut back. I’m following the storm water committee and most recent discovered problems are cross overs from storm to sanitary pipes. It is public works that brings out the sump pumps.

    But back to the main issue. Hhome rule gives city much more power in areas other than in taxes. For instance, home rule cities can more easily impose impact fees. I know you and mac oppose such fees (another issue in which we have had civil discourse even though disagreeing) but home rule powers enable city’s to enact such exactations. (Other cities can do so but its trickier). Similarly home rule cities have far more flexibility in negotiating with industrial/commerical developers.m In looking up the laws on the referendum in state code I was impressed at how much more a home rule city can do and less it could be controlled by the state than a city without home rule. I’m trying to encourage people with more expertise than i have to do some writing on this matter.

    I do agree that the procedures followed did not encourage citizen participation and as you see on this and other blogs have pushed for change of procedures and belief many have already been accepted by council. I understand why folk did not show up for the special meeting; that was held two quickly. But while I am disappointed in the council, I am also disappointed that only 3 (or was it 4) spoke at the second reading.

    But tying the hands of all councils — those anti-growth those pro growth, those pro industrial expansion, those anti-industrial expansion — because of an immediate (and I agree justifiable anger) seems to me a bit much.
    I really wish we could discuss this matter personally as we did with the school referendum. We have a wonderful opportunity to repair (as we did with the school district) many of the defects in current procedures without at the same time dramatically weakening our local government in areas well beyond those of taxing.

    Can we talk. You know my number and e-mail

    Herb

  35. I’m hoping that we opened many eyes within the school district and the communities the district serves. To say that we repaired the district may be wishful thinking but I do believe many eyes did open. It will take a lot of work over the next 6 to 9 months to keep those eyes open.

    Impact fees have become a way for developers and builders to do business with communities. I’m still a firm believer that more can be done to help a community through annexation agreements with the developer. Agreements would be based on size of the project, the impact that this project would have on services within the community, and these impacts could be settled faster if the developer knew up front what they would have to do. I am only opposed to impact fees when the fees are used to help hide costly mistakes and mismanagement of funds over the past years due to government waste and abuse. Many of the problems that we are seeing today is because there has not been proper checks and balances in place to make our governments responsible and accountable for their actions.

    I also feel that impact fees can get so out of hand that you just stop development in their tracks. This is why I’m nervous about how the construction downturn relates to the new high school and the core size that is being planned and also the downtown project.

    I have long been disappointed that the conclusions that were made during former Mayor Sparrow’s summit have not been utilized within this community. Many business people within this community along with you Herb, Mac, and myself spent many evenings working along side others to determine a proper growth plan for this community. I do believe that many of the ideas for future growth made sense but never were incorporated in the cities plans for growth. Sometimes the way things are done in this community reminds me of a chicken running around the yard with its head cut off.

    As for the 3 to 4 who took time to speak prior to the second reading. Herb, you just have to believe and trust that the council had to vote yes just as they will have to vote yes on the upcoming tax increases. I do believe that when the council accepted the agreement with the city’s union workers, this agreement could only work based on the 6 mentioned taxes within the agreement. Not voting the 6 tax increases would mean that the council would break the deal with the employees union. The council was put between a rock and a hard place with that Memorandum. It was proposed and written by the City Manager and our City Attorney. If I have understood this correctly, the mayor and council voted on poor advice and the public’s opinion really became moot at that point. 100 people could speak at the next meeting and they’ll have to vote the taxes in or break the contract with the union. If someone sees this differently, I’d love to hear your views. Thanks.

  36. I don’t think a hundred people (well 10) would have stopped the immediate vote, how is that for directness and council was trapped. I am upset that the manager hadn’t begun the process 3 weeks earlier, at least.

    As you might or might not know, my major comments at the meetings (and yes I was there and new about them and do wonder why spokespeople from other groups weren’t) were on suggesting better procedures for hearing from citizens (paper used to quote me when i said such stuff, but those days are gone).

    I did read back up material on the increases (admittedly prepared by staff) and concluded that while there were cost savings to be had, the deficit was real and some sort of tax increase was needed (To be honest i never really compared different types of tax increases; probably should have, might have been better sources of revenue, might not have been, but in any case the deficit was real) Plus, what hit me in the face was the perilous condition of the capital budgets that really have disappeared into operating expenses.

    But at the time of the vote I suspect only 9 people (besides staff) had read the backup material: mac, lynn F., me, the mayor and 5 of the 7 council members (I’m guessing here). And, I don’t disagree that what was done was not the way to get buy in for difficult decisions, (I’ve communicated that quite strongly to the elected officials) hence my emphasis at both the first and second readings on changing procedures to assure better citizen participation. .

    I too think the memorandum was too favorable for staff, but it also included non trivial cutbacks.

    We’re not at all apart on proper governmental procedure (well a bit apart, I’m a congenital optimist and really do believe persistence pays off; I mean how long did it take to get the impact fees), I too believe that there are some areas of just plain excess in the budget, and other areas that need to be debated since they reflect city policies on which reasonable people could disagree. Some of these will be dropped some will be maintained, but all should be debated.

    My concern from the beginning of the Mac-Mark effort has been on the extreme nature of ending home rule.

    Let me specify. I and others support certain programs and city efforts that others do not support. That’s fine, and I’m perfectly happy to debate these programs and accept whatever ever way the decision goes. But if home rule is eliminated there will be or can be no debate simply because money will not be there even if citizens want these programs (And, please don’t say hold a referendum; you can’t hold a referendum for every 50-100,00 dollar program. )

    I do believe that the current protest effort t will lead to serious cutbacks in the fy09 budget (if I’m wrong my thoughts the whole budget matter will change). That being the case, I’d rather have a structure that allows citizens if they wish to have more rapid snow removal, or better repair of storm pipes, or other programs, tourist promotion. Now don’t get me wrong, i don’t support all these programs but I don’t think that an underlying structure should be in place that automatically precludes them.

    Show me waste, excess personnel, excess compensation packages and the like and I’ll be the first to join in and demanding that this mis use of funds be ended.

    Back to the effect of participation. The improved school board procedures came about because several of us (mac and me included) kept showing up and pushing for them. Persistence does pay off.

    sorry for wordiness,

    herb r.

  37. Agree on summit. I was on it, co-authored the final report and then was really frustrated when much of what it accomplished disappeared into some sort of hyper space. Actually, the Summit did refocus attention on the plight of the school district, but the broader discussion on direction/type/composition of growth/non growth went up in wherever things go that disappear in politics.

    What was most interesting is that consensus was achieved between folk with very different initial views, in part by talking out issues, and in part by only focusing on those issues in which consensus was possible.

    An elected official (not hiding names, simply don’t remember), knowing that I had been on it, asked me if another should be convened. I answered in the affirmative and that was the last I heard of the matter.

    Two things that made in work. Some people who had initially very different views still had worked together on other issues and respected one another enough to listen. Second, staff backup was first rate with questions asked and data found to answer them or at least start at an answer. I doubt in the current budget climate that such staff support could/would? be made available. Goodness knows the cost of the professional time that was put into some of the data presentations.
    Oh, Summit also contracted NIU for a survey that in the end was of so so interest, but did cost some money (though NIU did it at cost). Minutes were first rate but again used staff time.

    herb r.

  38. I smelled the tax hikes as soon as the talk started about layoffs for city workers. I think all of that was carefully orchestrated in order to get public sympathy for workers who might lose their jobs, which was supposed to make the tax hikes feel less horrible.

    If that is true, then people should be ashamed of themselves for stressing out city workers who are not the problem.

    While doing the house cleaning, the City Mangler and the Arrogant Lawyer need to go.

  39. I just learned (though without full details) that because of lack of home rule in Rockford, mayor has trouble making sure rental properties don’t deteriorate and also has trouble because of legal constraints negotiating to lure in new businesses and industries. Will try to learn more but later..

    Interesting on this and mac’s blog, some people are saying that the workers are not the problem, others are saying we could have laid off the workers and stopped the tax hikes as the workers are the problem. I don’t know. . But it is is precisely that sort of confusion and disagreement that requires more participation to find out and more information provided by the city. I know at the early meeting council members each commented on getting oodles of phone calls not to lay off workers. My question was if workers were laid off what services if any would be cut.

    Most of the backup material can be found on line at the city site. I read it saw some things that both scared and bothered me, and convinced both that some cuts were possible but that a tax increase of some sort was also needed, but to be blunt, reading back up budget material is not exactly my idea of a good way of spending an evening.

    herb r

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