City Check Register: Feb ’08

Kid in a candy store, baby. I love reading the city’s check register. A couple months ago I found out that beaver removal costs $250. Who knew?

Here are a few highlights from February 2008:

  • The City of DeKalb paid over $1500 for coffee for all departments
  • A check for $370 was issued to the high school’s post-prom committee
  • Hitchcock Design was paid nearly $43,000
  • DeKalb’s firefighters bought 3 shiny new french fry cutters from Cabela’s for a total of $291.54
  • Here is Cabela’s industrial french fry cutter. Sounds pretty cool:

    Made from heavy-duty cast iron, this simple-to-operate manual cutter features a stainless steel trough, sturdy frame and pusher block and a cast-iron handle. Will cut potatoes up to 6″ long. Can be countertop-mounted or vertically mounted on a wall. Capable of producing up to 50 lbs. of fries per hour.

    In truth, I have a hard time begrudging the firefighters anything and don’t mean to be petty, but if I were having a budget crisis I’d find a way to make do with a cutting board and sharp knife.

    28 thoughts on “City Check Register: Feb ’08”

    1. The AutoBath on Lincoln Highway just closed. Does anyone know what will happen to it? I bet the construction hurt its business. Who wants to go to the car wash then drive through dirt?

      All I can say is *IF* the city even thinks of buying that property *NOW*, just say NO.

    2. One of Hitchcock’s recommendations was to expand the downtown core all the way to the river because it would bring the downtown closer to NIU and to the Kish.

      I do not know exactly what proportion of involvement the city has but it has known about negotiations–and may have been involved in them–to buy up every building on that side of Rt. 38 from the old Microsolutions down to the last house on the corner of Pearl.

      This has actually been in the works for quite some time, and Autobath signed on relatively fast, but there was one homeowner who held out until a month or two ago, and I heard Subway told its employees just yesterday that they were closing down. (I have a connection to one of the homeowners and to Subway.)

      The business that will anchor the new development reportedly is totally on board with the design concepts developed for DeKalb by Hitchcock.

    3. Yinn,
      I was part of the committee that got reports from Hitchcock. My memory is that a private developer came up with the ideas for the project of which you speak, than Hitchcock expanded what was covered by the downtown core. The whole thing was an iterative process that merged both Hitchcock’s planning with what I think was some independent business investment.

      If the rumors i hear are true (and in spite of having a quasi official position, I’m dependent on rumors) the project is exciting and could jump start down town renewal.

      Still in the current economic climate I’m afraid to be optimistic that even spring will arrive

      herb r

    4. I have a great deal of respect for firefighters, but this kind of unnecessary spending is a real problem with public institutions. Anyone in our local government who drops almost $300 on french fry cutters isn’t thinking holistically (regarding the budget). Undoubtedly, this kind of spending adds up, and it does so pretty damn fast. When it comes to the use of public funds, officials should only buy what they NEED. If someone told me the firefighters bought a microwave because their old one didn’t work anymore, then I wouldn’t take issue with the purchase (as long as they found a reasonably-priced, durable model after researching the matter). But french fry cutters??? Come on…

    5. Yes, Herb, they do, but the point is, even an expense that seems reasonable during ordinary times must be scrutinized at any time deemed a “crisis.” To me, this shows that the “crisis” has not spread to all departments or such a purchase would be deferred. It was also not accidental for me to mention it because the firefighters’ union is known to be the most powerful of all the city employees’ unions. I am very pro-union and pro-firefighter but that does not mean I think they should be placed above this necessary scrutiny.

      I agree that the First-to-Pearl development is ambitious and exciting for those of us who support downtown renewal. I hope that it will not have to be delayed during the days of our faltering economy and that local contractors will be used.

    6. Yinn
      Agree entirely with you on the need for real scrutiny. I really didn’t know if the firefighters still slept in the stations (I will refrain from asking about Dalmation dogs).

      Thanks
      herb

    7. That is a good question, treesfieldssky. There is nobody in the phone book with a name that starts with an “S” with Hopper. I really do not care who that is but he or she needs to pay the money back and never do it again.

    8. Actually, there are four people with Wright memberships totaling over $1,000.

      I would like to hear an explanation of that, as well as why the city manager needs a subscription to Crain’s.

      Nickels and dimes do add up.

    9. Kay,
      When I studied economic development (as an academic) I routinely read Crain’s as it kept me up to date on economic development issues. I think one of the university centers got it since my work was done pre-internet, or at least pre everything is on the internet. Manager’s office includes the city’s economic development staff, so I suspect that’s why Crain’s is on the subscripton list.

      Still every budget item needs to be justified and by asking questions we make sure the city managers also ask themselves the same questions.

      Ditto for athletic stuff. Most rapidly escalating city expense is in health care. Some argue that anti-smoking stuff (already in place), encouraging work outs, good diets etc. helps reduce insurance costs for the employer. Again a guess on my part on this one.

      herb

    10. Herb–

      My neighbors guessed/speculated that the athletic club could be a union negotiated perk. Who knows? Maybe someone might know a good reason why Park District facilities cannot be used instead.

      I thought the neighbor lady was going to explode when she found out about the Hooters expense. Whomever better plan on paying out of pocket next time.

    11. Kay,
      Does the park district have a full work out facility? I don’t know.

      NIU provided full facilities to all employees but they were so crowded that folk like me spent my own money to work out at the Y and have done so without fail for 25 years now (yup I’m bragging).

      I don’t want to spend to much time guessing on small expenses and I’ve never been to Hooters or any similar facility. Still, if in my (somewhat useless) position as EDC chair a business person thinking about relocating to DeKalb suggested eating at Hooters (or any legal establishment) I’d go there (and pay my own bill). I have had to eat in steak houses on city type of business (I pay my own bills, but the principle is the same) and I’m basically a vegetarian.

      Still I’m impressed with Lynn’s letter and if council takes her (and our) suggestions, you will have a direct opportunity to question on both Hooters and Wrights and get an answer from those who ought to know. Do so (I’m a bit curious about Hooter’s myself)

      Herb

    12. Herb,

      Just to make sure you know what point I am trying to make, Hooters is named for hooters, and sorry to make this blog PG:

      http://www.hooters.com/

      At least it is not a strip club, but the food is not the issue, the atmosphere is. This is not a place where tax dollars should be going.

    13. Haish gym has a quite decent workout facility including treadmills, bikes, elliptical and stair machines and weight-training equipment. If you live in the city and already have a pool or golf pass it’s free and you just re-register annually with proof of residency. If you don’t have one of the passes you pay a one-time $3 fee for a photo i.d. It’s a really good deal.

    14. Thanks for the info on the recreational facilities. And, I stand corrected on the Rec Center. I only checked after i retired. I joined the Y years ago since to be blunt did not feel comfortable in my work out clothes on campus, sort of a modesty I guess around my students so never really checked on campus facilities during working years. I taught wearing full suit and tie.

      So workers who live in the city could use it for free and I suspect the city could work out a fee for those workers who don’t live in DeKalb.

    15. On the French Fry cutters, that may not be out of the general fund. Every fire department in Illinois gets money from a tax fund that the state charges out of state domiciled fire insurance companies. That money can onlly be used certain ways and must be spent in a given time limit. This was originally intended to keep the quality of life for a firefighter the same at work as at home throughout the state. I would bet that the food utensils were probably a budget transfer out of that fund.

    16. On the issue of Wright’s gym, their hours and equipment are a bit more in line with what the firefighters may need. They do not have to observe lengthy holiday shutdowns and daytime hours to the extent that the Park District does. Also, the strength training equipment at Haish is a bit more basic than the needs of most of the smoke eaters.
      On the good side, if someone has a heart attach=k at Wright’s, they are more likely to receive more immediate and fine care.

    17. Herb, What I think that you are hinting at is that the city of Dekalb should use zero-based budgeting, which would require that every program and expense be justified each budget year. I agree with that concept. It is more time consuming for the department heads as it requires more research and information be given than “we always do this” or “we always buy this.” In the long run, though, it can save the taxpayers a ton of money by eliminating obsolete crap.

    18. Harry,
      Sorry i didn’t respond i though this thread had completed. City officials did send me explanation of some of the questionable expenses, with at least two being pass through money that did not come out of the city coffers. I didn’t bother posting that stuff since the conversation had turned to the bigger questions of the process of doing a budget.

      thanks for your info. Full zero based budgeting can get a bit tedious, but a move more in that direction would be helpful in both keeping expenses under control but also in enabling citizens to better see what money is being spent for. I suggested the above at a council meeting.

      herb

    19. That is the first time I’ve heard the term zero-based budgeting but will remember it for sure. Glad you stopped by, Harry.

      I’m going to go back over the register and see if I can discern the pass-through stuff, whether it is tagged in some way.

    20. Yinn
      I haven’t forwarded stuff that Mark B sent to me simply because a blog seemed an inefficient way of asking about individual items. Hopefully we will be able to do so at the public meeting sections of the budget review stuff starting in May.

      In any case, Mark B said I could forward stuff if i felt.

      Below are two of his responses to queries. (I’m not sure to what they refer exactly because I did not read the entire check book, Herb)

      Here’s mark b’s comments (I don’t have them all; must have deleted rather than saved some e-mail. I so love vista)

      Begin of Mark B’s comments
      Regarding the specific expenses

      Anti Crime Fund – this fund is not supported by local taxes. The source
      of funding is from donations from service organizations, drug
      confiscation money, and other similar sources. The $370 expense noted
      was to help sponsor DeKalb High School’s alcohol free post prom event at
      the student center. Its purpose was to promote responsible behavior
      while celebrating the end of the school year without it having to be
      fueled by alcohol.

      Foreign Fire Insurance Fund – this fund is not supported by local taxes.
      The source of funding is from a tax one pays on an insurance policy
      where said policy is underwritten by a company outside of Illinois. By
      law, the proceeds can only be used for and by the Fire Department. By
      that same law, decisions on what to purchase are made by a board elected
      by those in the Fire Department. All purchases such pots, pans,
      utensils, furniture, mattresses, etc. are paid for out of this fund. The
      firefighters spend 1/3 or their lives at the firehouse, it is their
      temporary home, and has in it the same items one is accustomed to in
      their private dwellings (perhaps more so due to the requirements for
      cooking for larger groups).

      End of mark B’s comments and return to Herb

      Hope this saves you a bit of time. Academic literature really questions whether zero-based budgeting works. Only reason i used the phrase in my comments was it was a short hand for far more complicated set of ideas than would have fit within the 3 minutes.

      herb r

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