Council Watch, 5/12/08

With Palmer Court slated to be torn up for the pass-through (p. 107) and whatever else, City Council last night adopted a resolution to move the Farmers’ Market to Parking Lot 3 for the time being. Lot 3 lies south of Lincoln along Grove, between 3rd and 4th. Speaking as a person who set up a canopy to sell her wares [wink] a couple times a week for three summers, it’s not ideal so let’s hope those with skating rink ambitions don’t push for permanence. Besides pulling it away from businesses that have benefited from the market’s Palmer location, the site is too close to the tracks and too open to the southwest winds.

The Financial Advisory Committee was established last night. Congrats to the new members. Mayor Van Buer impressed me by stating that this group should have been formed “a couple years ago” and that it’s being overlooked was a result of getting caught up in the routine. It hit exactly the right note, IMO.

Alderman Povlsen invited people to unhand their keyboards (actually it might have been “come out from behind the blogs”) and have their say at the budget workshops next week. I assume he mostly means the very sharp critics at The Daily Chronicle rather than the less-richly pseudonymous folks at other local blog-haunts who do attend meetings on occasion. Nevertheless, it is an almost-personal invite so must be seriously considered.

44 thoughts on “Council Watch, 5/12/08”

  1. Chris just doesn’t seem to get does he! There are many good suggestions on all of the blogs. The Daily Chronicle can get out of hand but when a string usually starts out, there are usually some very good ideas and there have been many good ideas concerning the budget and necessary cuts.

    Many of these bloggers cannot come out from behind their keyboards because of possible repercussion from fellow employee’s, bosses, and/or clients of theirs. Take the suggestion for what it is worth and use some common sense to some of these suggestions. Many have been good and definitely worth looking into and others well…

    Where it is nice to have advisory groups, our council will have to be the ones to ask the tough questions and you know what, make the cuts as swift and painless as possible. That is their job, not the advisory committee.

  2. Ivan,
    Yes some of the bloggers can’t come out behind their masks, but I highly doubt if that pertains to all. I have on several occasions abstracted ideas from the bloggers and shared them with council, and of course, testified and lobbied myself.

    The problem is politics: in handling difficult decisions especially personnel cuts, and even more specifically cutbacks in protective services, politicians need to show their is some support out there. An anonymous blogger does not provide the evidence needed by the politician when arguing with a protective services administrator that people are out there wanting cutbacks. This problem is exacerbated when the anonymous bloggers are mistaken in some of their facts.

    Incidentally i was the only person to testify last night on the budget (and was exhausted, horrible horrible airline experience in returning from my Latin American trip). I made three points:

    (a) the budget process should be educational and informative for the broader community both on procedures and in showing how public budgeting differs from private budgeting.

    (b) Yes, small savings do count so look for and eliminate the free soft drinks, , but I then argued the council should focus in on the larger concerns with personnel costs (see i gave them backing that a kris is desperately looking for)

    (c) I then argued that the council should go easy on some of the renewal types of programs that have been started as they will (IMHO) have public benefit in the long run.

    Frankly I am upset at the deep anonymous types. (That does not include Yinn and others who are loosely anonymous to prevent problems from electronic harassment and who do talk in public using their real names). It should not be so hard to find a person that is not afraid of testifying and have that person speak for the anonymous ones

    As research shows, elected officials do respond to lobbying but primarily from signed identifiable people. In federal lobbying (that I’ve done as often as local,) the trick is to have a human being show up with an advocacy point that is backed with hard data and then with identifiable people impacted or who would be impacted by the proposed policy.)

    Sorry if I sound a bit kvetchy. Just I was really tired last night (still am) yet felt it important enough to talk; the anonymous ‘experts’ could have made some effort beyond their keyboard.

    Herb

    Herb R

  3. Right! I’ve heard people say that advisory committees are a way for council members to duck responsibility. I don’t see it that way at all. Committees, if well chosen, can help council keep in touch with the wishes of the people they’re supposed to be representing, and certainly everybody knows where the buck is supposed to stop.

    As for the blogs, I’m just happy to know that they’re reading.

  4. Herb, any council member who can walk down the street without someone telling him/her that we want cutbacks, well, that person must not be walking the streets at all but living in a tower.

    Also, I am not buying the frame that the ONLY choice for cutbacks is in personnel and services. How about this: NO RAISES. CUT SALARIES. And where’s all this money coming from for redecorating offices? Those new matching water bottle sleeves are really cute–LIKE THEY ARE LAUGHING AT US.

    Anyway, if Kris Povlsen or any other council member has decided to take the taxpayers’ side and to make the tough cuts that are needed he has my full support and I am glad to say so.

  5. Sorry for being elliptical. By personnel I was referring to the total personnel budget that can be handled through salary control, no raises, reduction in personnel or whatever. I was trying to contrast the 70-80% of the budget that is involved in payroll with the rest of the budget.

    I’ve watched government for decades. Too often public officials (and citizens) will spend hours (or at least many minutes) on a small item that they can understand and in doing so ignore the large dollar items.

    I was saying (and the term personnel is the right term) that if given a curtailed amount of timing looking for savings in the personnel budget will get you more dollars than in the non personnel lines. Both of course should be examined.

    We are not in disagreement, just a misunderstanding of a term: personnel costs — that can be reduced through lower salaries, no raises, cost sharing on insurance, and through elimination of positions. . (Note I never mentioned service cutbacks though I do think if positions were eliminated such cutbacks would occur.)

    For years different council members have privately mentioned to me their desire to rein in the overhead and fringe costs of city employees as well as the system for allocating raises. That’s where community support is needed.

    Herb

  6. Why is there water coolers at city hall? I thought our water was one of the best in Northern Illinois. This may be one item that could be cut.

    Welcome back Herb. Hope you and the Mrs. had a grand time.

    There really should be a 100% freeze on ALL vehicles now. A budget line needs to be made in order to handle emergencies that may arise for a vehicle. All vehicles need to be reevaluated and see how a new rotation to purchase/replace vehicles can be set up. We have to get a little more time out of our equipment.

  7. Ivan,

    Why not simply cc financial advisory board on all your specific ideas, both Mac and Cohen Barnes have a very active e-mail presence, plus I’m sure you are known to Larson. I pushed for a web presence of the board at the council meeting but I probably was too sleepy to have said anything coherent (wonderful trip, until the flight home, awake 40 hours after only 4 hours of sleep’ airline service so bad that they actually apologized; next time I’ll take a clipper ship)

    Yes, specific items should be listed for cutback. My concern is the effort in doing so will distract from the personnel overhead stuff in which big bucks might be saved. What triggered this concern is that Wogen-Keller had worked out a large list of specific cutback, but two-thirds of them were already on Berniacki’s list. My approach to overhead items- cars, meetings, water coolers etc is to tell the senior admin staff and the department heads that their overhead stuff has to be cut by x% (more than the current 10%) and then let the on the ground people decide what to cut. Meanwhile council and financial advisory committee can ask big questions on staffing level, the combination of step raises and inflation raises staff get, overall salary structures etc.

    Oh, what made the trip extra wonderful is that I avoided e-mail and blogs for 18 marvelous days.

    Herb

    Herb

  8. Proposed budget:
    http://cityofdekalb.com/Downloads/City%20Manager/2009%20Proposed%20Budget.pdf

    Proposed TIF Admendment:
    http://cityofdekalb.com/Downloads/City%20Manager/Final%20Central%2008%20Amend%203-12-08.pdf

    Management Pay Plan:
    http://cityofdekalb.com/Downloads/Contracts/FY08%20Management%20Pay%20Plan.pdf

    FOP (Police) Contract (Expires Dec. 2008)
    http://cityofdekalb.com/Downloads/Contracts/FOP06-08.pdf

    ACSCME Contract (Expired Dec. 2007)
    http://cityofdekalb.com/Downloads/Contracts/Afscme2004-2007.pdf

    IAFF (Firefighters) Contract (Expires June 2011)
    http://cityofdekalb.com/Downloads/Contracts/IAFFAgreement2007-2011.pdf

    Questions for bloggers before unhinging from keyboards:

    1.) :::One time cuts to stop the bleeding::: Do you support suspension of all FY2009 vehicle purchases with exception of first responder variety?

    2) :::Good faith effort/restore public confidence cuts::: Do you support suspension of ALL coffee and lunch purchase reimbursements/expenditures?

    3) :::Either, or::: Freeze all salaries, suspend all raises or make substantial job cuts?

    4) :::If job cuts::: Administration, Public Works, Community Development, Information Technology, Police, Fire?

    5) What about pension reform?

    6) Do you understand the TIF Admendment? Are we going $68 million in debt and if so what is the bond sale schedule, repayment schedule, revenue projections, etc. If not, how much, if any, are we going in debt?

    7) How can we get hammers swinging and cash registers ringing, again?

    8) How can we dry up the need for those Foreclosure Tour Buses from running? See: http://www.realtytrac.com/MapSearch/MapSearch/MapSearch.aspx?criteriaType=zip&criteriaValue=60115

  9. Mac,
    Thanks for the posting.
    I think we need real focus in the next week and a half, on the immediate impacts to the city budget. Postponing capital expenditures makes sense. Of the contract, the firefighters last for another several years so they can for the nonce be ignored. But police, afscme and management stuff seem up for negotiation and money can be saved here especially in how raises are determined.

    To decide on cut backs we need (i.e. your advisory committee needs to ask) information on what services are cut with what cutbacks in which personnel. We simply lack data here. If a cop is cut does that mean a murderer will get a way or does it mean a 10 second delay in responding to a real, but minor complaint. Can IT be outsourced cheaper (and with more expertise) than having it done in house. In other words I’d suggest looking at the immediate general fund types of expenditures first.

    The TIF stuff is far more complicated and is significant but has only minor impact on the 2009 budget (old tif is still in place). Let’s focus on that after the 2009 budget is in place.

    Ending foreclosures, getting hammers swinging (I assume at 2 by 4s, studs, and shingles, not at me), and cash registers going is a problem far beyond that of DeKalb. Vital but not under the purview of what citizens, advisory boards and councils can accomplish in the next two weeks or so.

    Oh, have fund reading the 35 meg of material you shared :)

    Thanks
    Herb

  10. Thanks Mac! That is both an insomnia cure and cause–there are way too many properties under foreclosure and pre-foreclosure for anybody to be spending any money like a drunken ______ (insert your own word).

    Kay

  11. Herb, as yer head of the city’s economic development committee, please don’t throw up your hands because the problem reaches out further than our corporate boundaries. Your group is all volunteer but before the City gives the Chamber of Commerce and ReNew DeKalb $50,000 each they should provide their plans for getting cash registers ringing again.

    The TIF can provide economic stimulus and should be used to do just that. But we cannot allow the potential of $68 million-plus debt to not be scrutinized just to plug holes in the current dam. Full discourse and disclosure on revenue projections, costs, etc. must take place before the admendment is passed. The City ain’t hiding anything, the proposed admendment is on the upper right hand corner of the City’s Welcome Page. But I listened to one official describe TIF as a “savings account of sorts.” Ummmm… big difference between a savings account and a pledge against debt obligation bonds.

    The City Council was warned by staff in May of 2007 that significant budget deficits were likely, yet the IAFF contract was signed in July, 2007. I guess we can’t do anything about that but it sure don’t seem fair to me to freeze or reduce pay, or eliminate jobs for some while others get hefty raises. But… LIFE AIN’T FAIR.

    Outsourcing has to be considered but at this point I think it would be a mistake to do so with IT. I’d love to get the bid on some of the City’s tech work but, unless we outsource it to India, I don’t think we’d really save money. Besides we may need to use technology to lower administrative costs and there is real potential to do just that. So for now my thoughts are to leave IT in house.

    My reason for posting is to provide as much info as I can and encourage as many to speak up at hearings. I’m only one voice and am still reading through a lot of information.

  12. Mac,
    All I’m saying is from now to June 1 concentrate on the fy09 budget and in doing so look at the personnel and major equipment items for possible cutbacks.

    After June 1 is plenty of time to examine TIF. TIF is dramatically complicated, more so when it has both property tax and sales tax revenue streams. Plus it further complicated by whether or not GR revenue is backing the tif or it is truly a revenue bond with the risk moved to the purchaser. (School referendum bonds are GR bonds backed by your house and mine and others; the convocation center (in theory) is a revenue bond backed by revenues the center generates)

    Your comment on IT though illustrates the complexity of finding significant cost savings. I used IT as an example based on what I thought folk like you and other tech types were saying, yet you (who know a lot more about IT than I do) say no savings can be found here. Another saving that seemed apparent to me was in a social service program. I inquired: turned out it was a mandated program from on high (state i think?) that could be done either through a social service agency (at less cost) or by hiring an additional sworn officer; another idea shot down.

    The trick is not only to find ways to save money but ways that will build a consensus of at least 4 (of 7) for the savings.

    That’s tough.

    Can you do another favor. As you read the material point out sections you think others should read and what can be skipped. Clearly we all want to read salaries and benefit sections. But sometimes in contracts items that don’t appear to have financial implications do.

    Again thanks for saving us all time in hunting the documents. They are sitting on my computer desktop and will get read.

    (Oh, I did have a half hour conversation on an idea that if carried out will have some minor stimulus effect for the city)

    Herb

  13. That John Street / Augusta Ave., etc. TIF needs to stay on the plate. It may be many pages long but like most paperwork created by consultants there are plenty of blank pages and pages with very little real content. ;-)

    Hey Mac, you have my e-mail address but I don’t have yours. Could you please send me yours at: kayshelton@hotmail.com ?

    Thanks!

  14. I’m OK with keeping IT in-house but cannot understand the growth of this department. They said 20 employees total have been added to the city payroll since 2002, an increase of about 8%, and if memory serves 2.5 or 3 of them were picked up as IT, including the addition of a “deputy” honcho. This should be scrutinized. Also, although it is impossible to determine individual salaries, no matter how you work it at least some of them are clearly getting paid much more than their counterparts employed elsewhere.

  15. Yinn, Mac
    I thought public sector salaries were public. How come we can’t check. At the university, a public place, a full salary list was always available (though sometimes confusing as people might appear on two accounts)

    herb

  16. Why don’t we ask at the hearings next week. I’m still catching up from my trip and don’t have the time this afternoon to do city hall things. For administrators linking names to salaries seems fine; for ordinary staff their salaries should be public but to me it would be rude (though lega) to link names to salaries, but instead we should get a distribution of salaries by department and years of seniority. Also we need to carefully distinguish between salaries i.e. the stuff the worker takes home and shares with uncle sam and total compensation salaries plus medical plus retirement plus free passes to Hooters (couldn’t resist, I am still sleepy) :)

    herb

  17. Look at the map of the foreclosure tours that Mac posted. That John Street TIF area has very few properties tagged as something (bank owned, pre-foreclosure, etc.). There is only one property tagged on that map as being in pre-foreclosure in that whole area and for the surrounding blocks.

    That just seems silly to me, to blow tens of millions for the city to buy out, rip out, engage in “demolition” (p. 25), “achieve marketable tracts” (p. 23), pay for marketing, etc. for properties that are not (yet) in financial trouble. There must be several different less brutally expensive ways to deal with getting some properties tidied up than what is on the table. I do not like seeing cars parked along a street but seeing a weed-infested, boarded up house a bank owns or an empty lot the city owns is far worse.

    The folks responsible for taking the boarded up former dentist office on the corner of Pleasant and N. 14th and turning it into a well lit laundry mat deserves a gold star. That area surrounding the laundry mat has better lighting which is a crime deterrent and putting something in a boarded up building is very positive.

    Who is behind the John Street TIF?

    1. The apartment owners on the northwest side of town? They would profit if there will be fewer apartments, rooming houses, etc. for NIU students because with a smaller market, they could jack up the rent for their properties on the other side of town.
    2. The same people who just don’t seem to like looking at old buildings?
    3. The people who had the river walk idea blasted years ago while Bessie was mayor trying again?
    or
    4. None of the above?
    5. All of the above?

    I don’t see anything in the TIF plan about the John Street area flooding four times in ten years. Flooding needs to be addressed with before anyone blows any money.

  18. I’m trying to be cautious here, but i think the concerns on John Street while interesting are a bit over stated, at least as far as TIF money goes.. I think the plan is an amendment that adds on the john street area to the central redevelopment district (i.e. downtown and a bit more) At least that’s how I interpret “This 2008 Plan Amendment documents the relevant statutory requirements and
    how the Additional Area, the property proposed for addition to the Central Redevelopment
    Project Area, meets the eligibility criteria.
    B.”

    The arguments on redeveloping the John street area as well as those for downtown certainly should be made, pro and con. But i believe what we have in Mac’s link is the amendment that extends the downtown tif to include the John Street area. Could be wrong but my reading is consistent with my memory of what Bernacki said. If that is the case, the amendment has to be read in light of the original tif district that includes downtown.

    I’m not fighting pro or con on the John Street area, just pointing out that i think the whole sum of money is or could be used in BOTH downtown and in the John Street area and not just the John street area (If I’m wrong I’ll have a fit as the sum is way too much for residential redevelopment)

    (Oh, the foreclosure map was reassuring, my immediate and old established neighborhood seems to have no little dots or markers on the map, but then again I’m not seeing small stuff so well any more.

    To answer the ‘who is behind question’. One can never tell who really is behind something, but over many years pressure has been coming from the single family owners in the north 5th ward to turn the neighborhood back into single family residential. These folk periodically show up at planning meetings to make their arguments. Again I have mixed feelings on this issue, just reporting testimonies that I’ve heard over the years. When I was on the plan commission we told the single family homeowners and the boarding home owners to work out something both could live with and come back to the plan comm. At least while I was on it, they never came back.

    herb r

  19. I personally think they have included John Street because of past talk about a Riverwalk of sorts along the Kishwaukee River. I know that several years ago that was a topic of discussion. Well now with a Shodeen developing not too far from John Street (example: Shodeen’s work along the river in Geneva). This could always be a topic again in the future. Might as well keep the doors unlocked for the future.

    The flooding part can work for the city to come in a condemn the property along the river and John. There has been a precedent set now in town with the city buying up flood property. I might be with anonymous on this one.

  20. I just spent an hour going over the proposed budget. I know, nowhere enough time spent. Looking over several lines through out the budget for say items like fuel. Some of these lines actually dropped in cost over the previous years. How is this being done?

    Rental property inspections? Kind of a hit and miss with this budget forecast. A lot of overtime planned. Is this to accomodate property owners to when they will actually be home? Maybe the inspectors should work swing shifts to take care of this without overtime hours.

    At what point is it actually less expensive to hire more employees than it is to pay all of the overtime? Is there a formula? What is the advantage of paying so much overtime instead of hiring one, two, or three more employees?

    The one thing that caught my eye is the airport. Am I seeing things or is the projected budget for the airport actually a loss? I’m reading it to be a $1.1 million loss in the budget. If this is the case, how long can this community support this airport? This seems to me to be the biggest drain so far on the monies. Need help with this I guess.

  21. A couple of thoughts…

    Ticks on a map and status related to foreclosure are statistics. My prayers and concerns are for the people who live in those HOMES. While the various govt entities struggle with their budgets let us hope we are inclusive and considerate. We need to connect the dots.

    Each govt unit, while a separate item on the invoice, contributes to a burden that has become too high for many to afford. The struggle to make mortgage, or rent, often requires sacrifice at the dinner table… delay in needed health care… postponement or cancellation of the dreams of a child.

    It appears to me that Mason, Saucer, Lang and other west side landlords are fighting the proposed rental licensing and inspection program. Since it is identified in the TIF extension admendment as a tool for converting multi-family housing in the John Street area to single family then it is very unlikely they are behind this effort.

    I find it troublesome that a retired police officer is now the head of the inspection program in Community Development. First, I would suspect that his expertise in enforcement was a desired asset but a single focus does not serve the many facets of building requirements and life-safety issues well. (It does enhance the stated goal that the new department pays for itself). Second, I thought we were under a hiring freeze. Third, since he is a retired police officer does he draw a pension AND a salary? Last, does not his status imply another done deal since the department is still PROPOSED?

    The airport is a huge issue in my mind. As is the much smaller line item but same principle Chamber of Commerce and ReNew DeKalb. They need to prove their worth and explain why they cannot be self sufficient.

    At this point it is critical for the council members to see the faces of concern so the quantity of public comments at the hearings is more important than the quality. Three minutes of your face time is what I am hoping for. That might not sound right, especially in this forum of thinkers, but perhaps y’all could share that message with those not comfortable with speaking.

  22. There is no mention of a river walk in the TIF Amendment (a.k.a. John Street) that I recall. It looks like this document spent several pages listing definitions; copied parcel numbers, property values, etc. out of public records; pulled rent costs from the “Northern Star Housing Guide” and made a list; someone spent an hour or two taking pictures; threw in some new maps; reprinted already existing agreements; and not too much else. How much did those consultants make creating this document? Change that question–how much did the taxpayers get soaked paying someone to create that document loaded with photocopies?

    Page 25 has the estimated costs ($111,400,000). That had better be for the whole thing, the John Street addition *AND* the downtown plan.

    That is fine if people want to take their own properties and turn them back into single-family homes. Why should taxpayers pay for that, though? I would be in favor of some super low-cost home improvement loans but not outright taxpayer money. There is already a licensing system in place for rooming houses so why are those a festering problem? The John Street area is loaded with rooming houses which require a license so with that in mind, those should not be a festering problem.

    Herb, unfortunately, looking at the big picture the foreclosure map is not reassuring at all. I saw 240 properties counted as being in financial trouble of some type. Unless something changes with the economy, that number will only increase.

    ***

    It looks like people from the city do read the blogs. The coffee and party funds seem to be cut out for the 2009 budget, as well as thousands cut for the holiday gift fund ($6,300). There is also a cut to “activities supplies” of $11,000, whatever those were. There is text that points out the cuts to the coffee supply. It looks like there was effort to make some cuts.

    Wild stuff starts with the restructuring of the Community Development Department and the proposed Rental Inspection Program. Overall, it looks like there would be cost savings, mostly because of the proposal to charge property owners new fees, so the cost savings are sort of a wash.

    Each department seems to be spending thousands on dues and subscriptions. Page 21 lists a total of $46,645. The firefighters do have an exercise area, so those itemized expenditures for the Wright’s gym membership mentioned weeks ago probably should be questioned.

    My guess is that gasoline is contracted out from a supplier and not purchased at retail prices from the gas stations? I do not recall the source of the gas, oil, & antifreeze listed anywhere. If gas is not contracted out, then almost every department may have gas costs under-estimated compared to FY 2007 and FY 2008. Estimates for gas prices should be at least double of what they were for FY 2007 based on how much that black gold jumped recently. Ivan is right about some of those budgets being less. Even if there is a contractual agreement to buy fuel from a supplier less affected by fluctuations and at less than retail, the budgets for gas still seem too low. I certainly do not want to hear it about in say January of 2009 that the city is over budget again, because of increased gas prices.

    Telephone charges for some departments are almost unbelievable. Maybe there are both land lines and cell phones and/or pagers? There is some expenditure for IP Telephony for $140,000. I hope the purpose of that is to cut back on telephone costs.

    Some departments seem to have a lot listed for “office furniture & equipment” despite reductions from previous years. The same goes for tools. Office furniture, equipment, and tools should be rotated out as slowly as possible, when broken, worn, and in the case of new tools, only when necessary. Unnecessary inanimate objects should get cut first, people last, and people only as a last resort.

    There is a goal of doing a study on widening Peace Road over the railroad. I lost the page number on that but a thinning of Route 38 on the east side (“road diet”) which seems bizarre to me and wastes more money on consultants. That is not very smart if the city would like to attract visitors from the Shodeens project (if it happens) to downtown and residents to the Shodeens project coming from the opposite direction. In other areas, there are future projects to widen roads elsewhere (more on Annie Glidden and Bethany). Peace will need widening over the railroad in the future and that is not going to be cheap. Traffic backs up to just over the bridge, but not into the Pleasant St. intersection (yet).

    Life insurance costs drop to zero in I believe every department. Why? I did not find a reason, except perhaps that might be related to the changeover from the self-funded insurance deal to the pooled deal. Yes, as discussed weeks ago, the part-time aldermen have the option of getting health insurance. It looks like the health insurance costs for the part-timers exceed the salary costs. I believe the employee contribution is 2% with the city paying the rest. 2% of $6,000 is only $120. What a deal.

    Yes, I think the Airport Budget should show a projected loss of $1,022,804. Most of that appears to be from land acquisition ($2.4+ million for 2009) and an increase of $1+ million for “Airport Improvements, NEC” on page 82. The 2008 budget targeted land acquisition at $5.6+ million for 2008 but the actual was $2.4+ million. My guess is the land acquisition in 2009 is carry over from what they wanted to do this past year but could not.

    I did not see anything unreasonable in the police, fire, and AFSCME agreements. Compared to the ‘market value’ of comparable positions, for those jobs which have similar counterparts to NIU (secretarial, police, IT, etc.), city employee salaries start generally $2 to $4 per hour more and what gets taken out for health insurance is less, especially for families. City employees are obviously getting paid overtime when that is very rare at NIU because those who work overtime (the IT people making repairs at odd hours, etc.) are salaried or get earned time off instead of overtime. City employees in comparable positions fare even better if their benefits get compared to the health insurance plan at Kish College for full-time employees. I do not have salary figures for Rochelle, St. Charles, or Sycamore city employees. DeKalb should be comparable to Sycamore and somewhere between Rochelle and St. Charles based on the cost of living (obviously more than Rochelle but less than St. Charles).

    Yes, any new inspector people should be hired to work flex time swing shift (whatever that should be called), to catch people at home. Perhaps 9 to 5 three days a week for the big apartment complexes with daytime employees around and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. one or two days a week for the ‘mom and pop’ owned properties. That might avoid overtime.

    Something not on the budget but something to be avoided is the city buying up property which previously contributed to taxes and letting it sit empty for way too long. Also, the past and future land purchases by the airport–I am guessing that was unincorporated farm land and not property that contributed to the city’s tax base. If not, that would be a lot of land not contributing taxes anymore.

    ***

    Again:

    I certainly do not want to hear it about in say January of 2009 that the city is over budget again, with the excuse of increased gas prices because the projected budget did not project high enough.

  23. Interesting input. Hope many show up for their 3 minutes of face time.

    Irene (my wife) was on the financial advisory board decades ago and raised questions about the airport. These questions still persist. It is time now to either have the airport flap its own wings or be treated as a financial dodo (Okay you expect metaphors that work on a sunday morning?) Airport to me is an obvious target for cutbacks.

    Overtime is doubly complicated. We do have the question on whether or not overhead expenses (insurance, retirement etc.) are too high for the public employees. (For faculty at NIU total compensation added less than 20% to salary; a low number and some of that was not paid). But given that some overhead costs are fixed per employee (i.e. health insurance) paying overtime often makes sense rather than hiring a new employee and having more health care expenses. (Numbers though need to be examined in detail as to where the actual cutoff occurs)

    A suggestion to Mac and others on the board: they should suggest that the whole budget process begin at least a month earlier. Current schedule does not seem to allow for asking a complicated question, waiting for the answer, and then factoring the answer into the budget itself.

    Hope to see many of you at our substitute for dinner on Monday night.

    Herb

    An aside: I learn from this (and Mac’s) blog. I don’t always agree with what is said, but the civil tone is such a relief in contrast to the acrimony on certain blogs sponsored by a certain newspaper in this town (see I keep things anonymous)

  24. Mac,
    Your web site might be better than this one (as it seems to reach the business community) for encouraging people to turn out (I’ve been doing so on the newspaper site). People might be discouraged by the size of the budget document and not read it and then not show up. Participation will encourage the council members to be diligent in asking questions and people should show up even if just to express concern

    Also I’m assuming you are a Chamber member and call to the chamber might be in order (oh, Cohen is on your committee so maybe he should handle that)

    Herb

  25. I cannot be the only one out their that remembers the talk about a river walk along the Kishwaukee River. The lady that was promoting this idea was from the St. Charles/Geneva area. This is why I am saying that if John Street is in the TIF district, it would make it easier to move this idea along down the road.

    With all of the new construction that is forecasted to be done between 1st Street and the river, up Pearl to Gurler. I see the center of downtown shifting a little bit. Did we really need National Bank and Trust to come in and build a high rise office building in downtown? There’s already one downtown, which they currently rent part of, and I wonder it occupancy.

    Why 10 or 20 years from now, downtown could be hooked to NIU via the river walk. I am just wondering how all of these new strip malls plan on filling their space along with the new design for DeKalb’s downtown. Do I rent new space or old space? The less work a business needs to do to a building to ready for sales is usually more attractive. Shodeen to the east of DeKalb, Shodeen to the west of downtown DeKalb. Who does DeKalb get to fill in the middle?

    We seem to have green lighted a lot of projects with many questions still out there. What will attract business’ to DeKalb. High fuel prices? High sales taxes? High real estate taxes? A college town that is still considered a suit case school come weekends?

    I would like to see the city cut back a little on their agressiveness and see what is really the priorities to this community. The school situation is somewhat taken care of, I’m sure the budget will be worked out to almost everyones liking. The police station is a definite number 1 priority right now. Always should have been a priority before the airport IMO. Stimulating sales for our current merchants would also be a great thing for this community. Like Mac says, the city can create stimulus needed for this, will they?

    I do wish to remind all during this budget hearing that the earlier anticipated numbers for sales in this community WILL BE DOWN. The savings will have to be down primarily with cuts and delayed purchases. This would have to be across the board. There needs to be a separate line if there arises a need for money toward emergency equipment or needs but all need to do their part.

    In regards to the overtime hours. When you start to see hours in the 6 digits for overtime, what is the formula to say that one or two more employees may be needed. Is the overtime due to paperwork requirements. Can a lower salaried or several part timers be hired to type and file. What is causing the overtime and is there a way to get the overtime away from the higher hourly paid employees? Sometimes when you are so tired from exhaustion and sometimes frustration in trying to finish something, you tend to lose a little focus making the job your on go longer. We need to look into this.

    There are areas where the use of subcontracted help could be utilized a little more. My concerns is still with what I see the biggest drain for taxpayer dollars and that is the airport. The number of dollars that is spent their and how many taxpayers those dollars benefit is very low. How does the airport per taxpayer dollar spent really help the DeKalb citizen? This is a question that needs to be asked.

    I would say that privatization of the airport might be a serious consideration. We should not be in the airport business.

  26. Ivan,
    Hope you show up at the meeting especially on the airport. I just finished reading the budget (far more fun than taking a walk on a loverly day, just kidding) and had trouble pulling out dekalb transfers to the airport from fed subsidies. Will ask on the matter but pointers to me would help.

    herb

  27. There is no way NIU students are going to walk from the residence halls through a re-done John Street to downtown. That is not going to happen. If anyone has any delusions about creating a river walk in there, parking must be addressed, after the flooding issue. The reason why Geneva works as a walking/shopping area is because of the train. People from out of town come and go on the train. Otherwise, there would not enough parking in Geneva. Something else that works about Geneva is they kept the old buildings and put shops in the old houses and buildings. Not everything got bulldozed down in Geneva. The Kish just isn’t as big or as pretty as the Fox River either. Most importantly, the average salary for people who live in Geneva is off the charts compared to here.

    Everybody I know including myself cut back on household spending because of the higher prices. The increased sales tax may be a wash because of that or even lower.

    Until Corn Fest and the hanger Tails used to house those poor animals from the Rochelle animal hoarder, I doubt very many people here benefited from the airport lately. But, the airport does not get anything from property taxes. There was $100K+ from TIF money going into it from last year. The airport budget is the only realistic department about increased fuel costs, double from last year. But there is the problem of projected expenditures exceeding revenues by $1+ million, which could become serious. It looks like last year, the actual FY 2008 budget expenses came in at more than double the estimated expenses. The actual FY 2008 revenues came in at around double the estimated revenue. Instead of being a $3+ million cash cow for the city, they spent everything that got brought in as revenue. A lot of that extra revenue came from the feds which probably had to be spent, but not all of that extra revenue came from the feds.

  28. “yinn Says:
    May 18th, 2008 at 9:47 am

    They can create as many logos as they like, but most often it’s the market itself that brands the product!”

    What would a money pit look like for a logo?
    ;-)

  29. What staff is being used to maintain the airport? Public works is maintaining the airport. What about the equipment that they have purchased and are purchasing for the airport? Tax dollars have been allocated for building new hangars. What are our obligations for that Fed money being used at the airport? Revenue to me is if the number of pilots and planes using the airport can pay for its day to day expenses when the Fed stop giving us money.

    What is the land purchase for? Are we looking at becoming even bigger? I’m not sure that I’m in line to welcome all of the extra plane and jet noise because of bigger runways. There are many who are trying to get away from this and we are fueling it. I’d like to see a vote on whether the taxpayers feel that this airport should be getting bigger or stay right where they are. The most recent equipment purchase was for a foaming fire truck. Is the next move going to be to maintain a shift of firefighters on the airport site?

  30. Excellent points–Somewhere I think I read there will be firefighter training for the airport, and that big fire truck will be maintained for a period of time before and after larger planes arrive. I believe the expansion and the purchase of the fire truck from Peoria (??) was so the airport could handle some charters normally going in and out of Rockford. So I believe that does mean tax dollars sitting in the fire budget would cross over to the airport.

    Yes, fed money could dry up at any time, the same goes for the grants from the Illinois state budget, which has its own severe mismanagement issues.

    Years ago, there were rumors that UPS was going to move some of its operations from Rockford to here but I believe that was before the O’Hare expansion received approval. I think there is a plan to get instrumentation and FAA controllers for DeKalb??? That means the possibility of bigger and noisier planes.

    One runway is 7,025 feet long. There won’t be any 747s landing there anytime soon. That is about 500 feet too short for a 747. But that might be long enough to handle bigger planes than what is already there, if there is the addition of instrumentation. I can research what could land at DTMA based on runway length after I finish a couple of projects with deadlines. In the meantime, enjoy this 747 taking off from a runway that is 7,450 feet long:

  31. Thanks anonymous for those links and the information.

    The taxpayer SHOULD NOT have to pay a dollar to support this move.

    What are we doing in this community? A strip mall here and a strip mall there. I thought the new plan for downtown was to strengthen and draw business to those that exist already. What I’m seeing is a push to really bring in new stores and businesses to the outlying boundaries of downtown. I consider 1st to 4th and Locust to Grove the real downtown. It would be nice to bring in 5th, 6th, to 7th street into the mix.

    All of this land purchase and the incentives to out of town developers is just plain crazy at this economic downturn. Let’s work with what we have and be ready to grow if the future dictates the need.

    The airport is a luxury that the taxpayers of this community need nothing to do with!

  32. Hey, maybe DeKalb will be that third airport Chicago started whining about years ago. (That is meant to be a joke.)

    The budget meeting that will include the airport will be on Wednesday.

  33. ummm, Jack… there’s a rumor circulating around city hall that us bloggers and commenters are all crazy… too late, you have now entered the Hall of Nuts. Check out anytime ya want but you can never leave.

    My dungeon office is located on Palmer Court underneath My Faivrett Things. Nothing is wrong with Palmer Court but it and Parking Lot 4 could be a whole lot better. There’s a lot of stuff in the downtown revitalization plan that I support but scrutiny on the specifics of it and the proposed TIF admendment is CRITICAL.

    The location of parking lot 4 does create the opportunity to redevelop it into a town square of sorts. The potential of that has already helped to address one of the biggest and oldest problems in downtown DeKalb: absentee owners of many of the buildings. Local people have bought several buildings and visible improvements made or are ongoing.

    Government investment can be an economic stimulous, especially in tough times, if done right. The FDR WPA program in response to the Great Depression is one example.

    But there are very legitimate concerns. The over influence of NIU in local government is a catalyst for one of the primary concerns: PARKING. NIU has a captive audience, students and staff, so they can be and are less accomodating for parking needs than retailers and restaurants must be to survive.

    Gentrification is another concern. Right now downtown DeKalb is the last bastion of sorts for small indepdendent businesses and start-ups. Cheap rent allows that. The idea behind TIF is that it raises property values for taxing purposes. That means it raises rent and could very well rent-price small independents out of downtown. And if traffic is not increased (which requires more not the same amount of parking) then the whole thing could easily backfire.

    In consideration of my paranoia for things backfiring I’m urging everyone to pay close attention to costs and debt obligations related to the extended and expanded TIF district. I heard one official explain TIF as a “savings account.” That’s beyond BS and highly irresponsible. The program allows the city to go into debt to make the needed investments.

    Multiple choice question Will the City (taxpayers) be indebted as a result of the TIF-based redevelopment plans A) $6.5 million B) $20 million c) $68 million or D) $111 million. I don’t know the answer, yet, but taxpayers better fully know the answer and demand to know what a realistic return on investment (ROI) is and fully understand how the debt will be paid in all scenarios.

  34. That depends on which blog. If you mean the Chronicle’s blog, sure, there are plenty of crazies. If you mean this blog, I think the conversation is much better.

  35. You know it always seems that when it rains it pours. Like in my business, it seems that all of the tools all start breaking down at the same time and probably will again because now I’m replacing them all at the same time. Kind of sounds like DeKalb’s infrastructure and building needs.

    The citizens advisory committee met for its first meeting last night to get a detailed explanation of all that has happened to this point from the start of discussing the need for a new police station which actually started close to 9 years ago. Reasons why choices have been made and how those choices will help today and tomorrow as this community grows through the upcoming 20 years.

    First, I must go on record to say, unbelievably awful and embarassing! That is the feeling that I had when I completed my personal tour of the DeKalb Police Department. I absolutely take my hat off to all of these committed officers for putting up with what they have for a station. This current station does not fit their needs at all for the work they are responsible to do today.

    I thought the high school was approaching bad. Fellow citizens of DeKalb, this station is way pass bad. Old bathrooms and closets are actually used for offices and files of that officer. Interogation rooms that have thinner walls than most college apartments. A ladies locker room that was a previous janitors closet. Their shower space is a closet now for winter and rain gear. Mold is all over the ceilings and walls of the gun range and meeting area. The actual police station office area, resembles more Grand Central Station than a secure and professional law enforcement office.
    911 communciations is cramped for 2 dispathers but runs up to 3, really could use 8 stations to run the way a 911 center should. Air quality is awful, holding cells are a joke. The detectives area where literally every case is examined and investigated is inadequate for space and necessary lab work. Literally no safety measures are in place for employees and guests who are constantly having criminals paraded right past their desk and stations.

    I do encourage all to talk to an officer about the current station and even better yet, stop by and ask for a brief tour. It won’t take long for you to feel the same.

    The committee has an interesting charge as the council is looking for a recommendation on how to proceed whether now or postpone to later date, build for today and expand tomorrow (never makes sense when you know you are already short of space and growing) and how does the city expect to pay for this.

    Hopefully, we can help in a positive direction that will give the officers of this community who we count on to “serve and protect” us everyday, 24 hours a day. With times like they are for all of us today, the need is great and hopefully we can generate some great ideas to how this can be done with as little impact to the taxpayers of this community financially. We’ve have to figure how to do this for our police department.

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