Budget Workshop Open Thread #2

Well, shoot, the commenters precede the blogger’s efforts here! Kay Shelton’s comments, appearing in the previous article summarize the proceedings in much the same way I would, so I shall copy part of them on the flip. Thanks, Kay! The main idea is that the most basic services, police and fire protection, are being provided in responsible, innovative, cost-conscious ways, especially the P.D. In fact, I am inclined to suggest that if every department in the City of DeKalb were as concientious in responding to the current budget crisis as the P.D. is, our straits would be less dire for sure.

So here is a portion of Kay’s comments; be sure to click on the link above for its entirety:

Well, for the things that really count, police and fire (and ambulance), it looks like the professionals are doing what they need to do. For overtime on police and fire, those costs were explained at the meeting. For fire, they have overtime for events (such as an NIU football game) or when too many people have to go out on call. But, they get reimbursed through a contract with NIU. That answers the question out in the community if NIU pays for those services. To reduce fire overtime, it looks like in the long term, they might be better off with hiring a couple more people.

For police, they often get overtime for getting hired to run security at Village Commons Bookstore and other places. I know police help out at VCB at certain times when there are large amounts of money passing hands and a busy parking lot because I see them there; I just didn’t know they get paid to be there. They get overtime but they get reimbursed.

The police usually rotate out four cars for replacement but they requested just one car.

What happens, is the overtime for both fire and police comes back in to the General Fund so it looks like horrible overtime but they are actually getting reimbursed–it just is not going to show up in the same area of the budget as getting paid back.

The clerk’s office and the lawyer’s office both look efficient, although something did not look right with the amount for the health insurance on the clerk’s office but that will get checked.

What looks wacky to me are all the consultants that get hired and there is a proposed $100,000 line item on the Council / Mayor budget to cover the creation of a logo, branding, and some sort of financial planner. This recommendation came about because of some community committee (or was it the Chamber??) but I did not quite catch which group. There seemed to be some talk about not approving that, some talk about having a logo design contest rather than paying some consultant, finding out how much it would really cost before approving it, and/or some combination of all of the above.

9 thoughts on “Budget Workshop Open Thread #2”

  1. I’m rapidly concluding that many departments are reasonably efficient. Agree with most of the line item concerns that Yinn and Kay mention.

    Hopefully airport will be discussed tonight.

    Major concerns though are still on COLA and step raises for employees and how these play out during tough times. I didn’t testify on this since I have already communicated these concerns to council, staff and to some on the advisory board.

    herb

  2. The $100,000 line item is troubling. At first it was designated for hiring a pr expert for branding the City. Then it also included a financial consultant for advising the advisory committee. Then it was explained as a ballpark figure of sorts to hopefully accomplish both. The only thing certain, IMHO, is if the line item is included in the budget it will be spent on something.

    Branding is a highly advanced marketing strategy. Basic marketing attempts to establish The Product as the best solution to The User’s needs. Branding attempts to establish The Product as the ONLY solution. It takes a lot of time (and in most cases a bunch of money) to establish branding.

    I’m but one voice. I don’t think we should hire a financial consultant. Audit? Yes. I think one was done. I think consensus among the committee, and more importantly the council, will support that position.

  3. Agree on the 100,000.
    Story on financial consultant. Irene (wife and national expert on public budgeting) was on the previous incarnation of the city’s financial advisory board. Board was disbanded for political reasons. Anyway, Irene and others served for free, feeling like good citizens and perhaps helping the city.

    Board was abolished and Irene (who only does consulting for the public sector, often times pro bono) was hired by (perhaps I shouldn’t mention city name) a city in the suburbs to provide exactly the same type of advice and analysis she was providing for free to DeKalb. Her paid for advice actually was taken.

    bottom line: city has in it because of the university sufficient pro bono expertise so as not to need the consultant.

    I also agree with Mac (gosh this is scary agreeing so much) that PR efforts are a waste of money if done half heartily. But I also agree that re-imaging (that’s better than branding) Dekalb as the university town not as an old agricultural town is important. My compromise would be leave in a place holder amount of several thousand dollars in that spot, to indicate that when times get better and a partnership can be formed with the chamber that a re-imaging exercise would be in order, but not now.

    Hearings are informative but too short and too long at the same time. The evening sessions exceed attention span, yet do not allow for the depth give and take that many items need. If someone else doesn’t do so i will suggest keeping the hearing process but starting it earlier in the year and doubling the number of shorter sessions to allow more dialogue time and enable us mortals to absorb more of the material

    herb

  4. Dr. R.:

    I second the motion regarding the change in meetings with more frequency, it may allow us to have more attempts at attending. I am not sure I can make tonight’s meeting, though I will try.

    With a major university here in the community, why don’t we take better advantage of it? For example, instead of hiring a marketing consultant, why not pick the brains and talent of the NIU marketing department? Why not have community development supervise a revolving internship that would establish and then execute a branding plan. Heck, even give the students a stipend for their time, it’s still cheaper than a 100K consultant. And then why not expand that further with other opportunities with other departments?

    I also know of the aversion to privatizing services. And not all services should go that route. However, and this is pertinent with Public Works on the agenda tonight, why not privatize landscaping and snow plowing, for starters? While you likely wouldn’t have one contractor able to clear all the snow in the city, you could put it to bid by ward boundaries. They could estimate their costs as you could supply information like road miles for them. Perhaps the city then could partner with them by supplying the salt at cost (since the city could get a better price on it I believe). It is possible that some mischief could occur there, but let’s look for those cost-cutting opportunities.

    I believe Public Works is one area in which efficiency can be improved. For example, a friend and I were talking on Sunday. He said he had noted a day in which a stretch of street was blocked while two workers were measuring the difference between manholes. Two days later, two different guys were out in the same place doing the same thing. It would be nice if there was a way to have a city complaint/inefficiency phone number to report redundancies, but the crackpots would probably tie that up with frivolous complaints.

    Maybe the city should sponsor (both with staff and with the public) a bonus program awarding a cash prize for suggestions that improve the efficiency and delivery of services.

    Just some random thoughts as I take a break for lunch.

  5. As I mentioned privatization is always iffy. Best systems try it with city bureaucrats competing to providee same service and then let the chips or snow or asphalt fall where it may . sometimes it works sometimes not. Ideology saying that is should work is wrong, but so is ideology saying it won’t work. What you need to do is try it but have an escape if it fails.

    University is iffy; faculty do volunteer when asked, but faculty are people with careers (and many need to supplement their salaries with consulting for money) We do benefit from volunteer professionals but there is a limit.

    I’m very much an exception in terms of involvement and towards the end of my career I calculated that public sector involvement was costing me 1-2% of base salary (in raises that volunteer work didn’t get but writing would have.) No complaints: its fun for me and I felt good about it, but i also have no children, no parents and an economically self-sufficient wife.) so could afford to do it. Plus I taught and wrote about cities so any involvement was a learning experience.

    Extended internship programs are a good idea, as faculty who supervise interns get credit,the city gets quality labor (and back door help from the faculty) and the students learn.

    All of us have stories about public works people. But we also have stories about so called free enterprise. Had two recent camera repairs (I’m a serious, amateur with near professional equipment). One firm took 7 or 8 weeks, was unresponsive, couldn’t find records etc. Other did stuff in 6 days including shipping. Both were top rated by my camera company. Recent trip airline cancelled a 6:15 a.m flight in Peru provided no information finally left at 1 a.m. next day. Only survived because a logistics officer from the military was on our tour and she took charge. And, have you ever tried to call customer service at a computer company (except of course for the local companies that I try to deal with).

    Herb

  6. Of everything the city does, the airport is the only thing that could really be a cash cow. Or, it can continue to be a money pit, taking local and federal dollars. The airport guy giving a report tonight said the airport was about to turn the corner. OK, fine, it is time to hold him to that.

    The airport is not running at a $1+ million loss; it’s all fuzzy math. 2009 is supposed to be around a $200K+ loss, but they have plans to get a bunch of new equipment that would allow instrumentation and more planes to land, and in bad weather. Fine, they should be recouping that loss later.

    Realistically, there will not be any state revenue. The feds run on an 95% to 2.5% + 2.5% ratio. The feds chip in the lion’s share at 95%, the state should do 2.5% and local should do 2.5%. The state has no $$, so if there is a project, then local would pick up the state’s share, too. So, forget about that state revenue; if there is a federal project that comes in, then the local will be covering the state’s portion.

    There are unofficial benchmarks for snow plowing and if it people do not like how the snow is getting plowed, they start screaming. It is time to set some benchmarks for the airport, too:

    By FY 2011, if the airport is not running in the black (including the employees it shares from the water and public works (?? I think I wrote that down correctly) whose portions of their salaries do not show up in the airport’s budget), it is time to cut the umbilical cord. If there is no revenue in the black, fine, then all city funding should cease, and no more sharing of employees from other departments. The airport can still exist but the employees will need to find salary money and other expenses out of the hanger rental fees, etc., where ever.

    If there is still no revenue in the black by 2012, fine. Perhaps Herb will know if and how the thing could be privatized or sold off into something else.

    Call this: No Plane Left Behind. Yes, that is sort of a joke. It is harsh, and it is pretty much what the feds are doing to our schools. Republicans should love this–it is calling for accountability for the airport’s use of local and federal tax dollars. :-) The airport guy pointed out that the airport does not get property taxes but I believe that is a misnomer because the airport shares employees from other departments that would get property taxes??? With the schools and No Child Left Behind, under-performing schools eventually get their funding yanked. If the federal government is willing to do that to kids, then something like the airport should be held accountable for its use of tax dollars, too.

    The other piece of this is that the more land the airport gets, the more land that goes off of what could come into the city from property taxes and/or sales taxes. The airport basically subsidizes big toys for big boys with really deep pockets. Talk about corporate welfare!

    The airport guy said that Target would not be here except for the airport. OK, fine. That goes to ROI, return on investment. How many local, federal, and state (in years past) dollars all together add up over decades that Target offsets!? Tens of millions?

    When I am more awake, I will read this over to see what kind of a whacked out idea all this is.

    I might have something put together sometime in the future modeled after another city that would help out the folks who could use some house money, get the landlords to stop screaming, and prevent some group like the ACLU from coming in and suing the city for the rental inspection deal. ;-)

  7. Kay, maybe NIU should look into buying and operating the airport. They could actually open another college and introduce aviantics to their offerings. That would put or lessen the load required for City of DeKalb employees, administration thus pensions.

    I as a builder hear all the time how we are using valuable farm land for housing and I understand that concern. My question is if land were to be used, is it better to house people or lay down runways and build hangars?

  8. Ivan–Brilliant idea, wrong college. Kishwaukee College already has some sort of ground flight training or something. NIU has nothing to my knowledge related to flying airplanes. A new program at NIU would go through the state and the state is in a multi-billion dollar hole. NIU has a reserve but it is tagged by purpose–when people look at NIU’s reserves and think that NIU has millions socked away, I think what they find are the funds for scholarships and that money cannot be moved around. Say a rich person donates a pile of money specifically for a scholarship. The money sits in an account (endownment) and every year, only a certain percentage of the money can be skimmed off to give out the scholarship. It looks like NIU has a lot but then that money cannot be moved over to something else, especially when donors say what he or she wants the money to fund. Donors usually don’t donate to pay the electrical bill; they donate to make scholarships. Once money gets tagged for scholarships, it cannot be used for anything else.

    Back to Kish College–Say Kish could find enough dough to buy the airport and enhance its education for future pilots, Kish is still local money. That would not get the airport making enough money to pay for itself.

    I think the purpose of doing anything should be to reduce the airport’s stress off the taxpayers’ backs as much as possible. Of everything in the city, the airport seems to be the only entity that could (and should) operate well into the black.

    I will go back to the crazy rant from last night. If there is enough pressure from the public to hold the airport management accountable to get out and stay out of the hole, I bet they could do it.

    Mac–One piece of the puzzle that is missing is a copy of the agreement between the city and the J.A. Air Center. Could you please ask for if such an animal exists and if a copy can be made available? How much are they getting and should anything the J.A. Air Center making go back to taxpayers and/or reduce what gets mooched from the feds? If they have employees, why should the city continue to fund employees for the airport?

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