23 thoughts on “Mac’s Budget Recommendations”

  1. Thanks mac for reposting. I commented on your site though did have some trouble with reading te city tables.

    Again thanks.

    Also, did anyone other than yourself show up with at least a list of questions if not the whole type of report you prepared?

    Does the committee have a chair?

    Who will write the committee’s report?

    Was the Chronicle there at the meeting? In general, who attended.

    (Feel kind of guilty not going, but I actually did some work this morning.)

    Herb

  2. Oh, yes, this is much better. It will take awhile to digest all this, but a few things pop out at me immediately:

    –The comparable communities data is DEVASTATINGLY CLEAR, as are the projections out to 2012. I am now feeling quite grim. Will Council have the guts to change course? Or will they try to argue that DeKalb is unique/exceptional in some way?

    –Selling surplus property to build the reserve fund: Totally agree.

    –The $100,000 allocated for contractual services by the legislative department I believe is the “placeholder” for the budget consultant and the branding scheme.

    –Series of line item questions/challenges by department is thorough.

    –Recommendations are clear and reasonable.

    Yup. Well done.

  3. You know, I have gone through Mac’s recommendation to the DeKalb City Council concerning the FY09 budget.

    Am I the only one that is thinking that the Mayor and the City Council need to offer Mac a job and let go of several of the upper staff.

    Mac’s recommendations do what the City Manager didn’t do and that is to CUT where needs to be CUT. Many questions that do truly deserve some straight answers from our city staff. DeKalb is truly in trouble unless our council and Mayor can see through what is going on and right this ship.

  4. Mac

    Great report. I do have a question or two that maybe you can answer. I know I am beating the old horse OVERTIME.

    I thought I heard both the Police Chief and Fire Chief state that their overtime included both emergency time and time that was billed out to the public when the public hires the officers and or medics for special assignment. Examples were the Police were hired to patrol Village Commons parking lot and the ambulance is hired at times for assignments at the convocation center.

    What I cannot find is at what rate does the City charge for these services? Are they charging enough? Should not the overtime line item be broken down further to included:

    1. Emergency Coverage ( self explainatory)
    2. Scheduled overtime. ( covering for others days off, trainging ect)
    3. Contractual overtime ( payment for being on call)
    4. Pass throughs I.E. ( billed to the public who hired the officers / medics

    I see the Income in Contractual Agreements or something like that but again nothing broken down.

    Anytime someone says that this line item included itmes such as this. “THESE ITMES NEED TO BE BROKEN DOWN.”

    The more these items are broken down the clearer the pictUire will become.

    Hope this makes sense.

    Pevo

  5. What we need for better clarification is not just the comparative EAV but the tax burden per person i.e. take the typical citizen in DeKalb –median income, median priced home — how much is that person paying in taxes to the city. Question is far from trivial because of the presence of the students and out of town shoppers on highway 23 but the answer is important.

    One almost certain outcome (I hope) is that the city will have far more transparent and open budget procedures that’s to the good.

    But a question. Assume we save the money Mac (and others recommend to save), at best that handles the first year. (And, its unlikely all the money will be saved — cutting overtime that is paid for by contracts probably doesn’t save anything, unless we are really undercharging. Still such savings are to the good. Agree with Ed entire; the more breakdown, the more explanation the clearer the budget and the easier it is to get citizen acceptance (assuming that in clear budgets foolish items are cut back).

    Then what? Will new union contracts save us money or not?. We have lots of speculation here but I’ve seen no data on what we are paying versus what others pay and for what service packages. Then I think we are back to ‘designing government’, that is asking ourselves how much we are willing to pay for what service packages.

    Herb

    The long term discussion has begun, begun well, but it is a long term discussion. I believe (and in public discourse, what I believe is right only a small percentage of the time) one item on which we all agree is that budget monitoring and budget adjustments will take a few years to accomplish.

    Herb

  6. DeKalb is unique to the comparable communities in that it has such a substantially lower EAV. I learn something every day. Who is the largest landowner in the City of DeKalb.

    3 seconds to answer, no googling, yinn.

    1, 2, ehhh…. wrong!

    Correct answer: City of DeKalb, due in large part to the Airport, which takes more land than the NIU Campus, which is pretty big itself. It all adds up to a need for the gov units to be very hesitant to turn anymore taxpaying property into the tax free government flavor. And maybe revert any excess real estate into private taxpaying hands.

    Ed… One of the suggestions Mike Peddle, who acted as Chair at today’s meeting, made was for more transparency on reimbursement revenue from overtime services. Keep beating that horse because overtime is one area that must be improved (thru better scheduling).

    Thanks Ivan. I could use the money! But, alas, that is the least desirable qualification.

  7. I am hardly a fount of wisdom, and I still have a lot to learn about municipal finance. that being said, after reading Mac’s analysis, I think it is spot on. This is especially the case for overtime. It is almost impossible to budget for snow removal, or for patching broken water mains. But, I do not understand why there is so much overtime for police and fire personnel. I am also puzzled by administrative overtime. I would think that most of these people are salaried and exempt from overtime. Certainly I rarely worked a mere 40 hour week as an engineer or as an administrator. The trade-off was supposed to be that you worked a lot of hours, but had some semblance of job security. This would certainly seem to be the case in the City’s administrative division. Mac’s cuts seem sensible and well taken. The insurance costs are also something to look into. I once saved a city about $60,000 a year in insurance by having a top flight independent agent put out their insurance for bids. I dumped Blue Cross which had priced itself beyond our modest means, and found another company that provided similar coverage for a lot less money. Yes it was a loss leader, but we could go out for bids again after that contract was up. I used the insurance myself, and it worked fine. Others were upset by the different drug benefit plan, but is still suited most of the people’s needs. I suspect that there is little interest in city hall in reducing expenditures, but they are going to have to do so. Mac’s graphs of revenues and expenditures show why they have to get serious. We cannot afford business as usual any more.

  8. When fire and police have overtime because of babysitting VCB, etc. the reimbursed money should go back to the respective departments, not the general fund.

    Unlike snowplowing or pothole filling, I cannot imagine residents will notice if the airport under-performs. The airport never appears on the list of properties the Chronicle commentors whine about not paying taxes. The airport needs benchmarks. Although the cost of fuel is going through the roof, the airport can take advantage of that, applying the same principles that make it generally cheaper to fly out of Midway instead of O’Hare and cheaper to change planes in Shannon instead of Dublin (or Heathrow). In other words, the airport needs to turn that corner in the near future, without any excuses.

    That document was all content, no fluff. The citizens owe Mac and the group a debt of gratitude.

  9. I am in agreement with your work, Mac. Will the public be allowed to comment on the budget at next week’s Council meeting? If so, I would like to advocate a lot of your positions (not that I disagree, I’m just sure that time will be limited). And I don’t want to cross topics here, but as I am thinking out loud, I am wondering if the School District can benefit from a similar plan. Specifically, what if the district offices were actually part of the high school and the district then sold off its offices and surplus land. I am not advocating as much as I am just comparing ways to deal with financial needs in governmental bodies.

    And Kay, being one of those whiners at the Chronicle space as well (both using my own name and my nom de guerre), one reason the airport has not been targeted there is its lack of visibility. Your incisive comments and analysis, as well as others, has helped bring that facility and its financial needs/commitment into light. In the coming weeks, I believe the airport will receive appropriate attention.

    Thank you Mac, I appreciate your hard work and thoughtful anaylsis. If showing up and commenting at Council next week will help, it’s the least I can do.

  10. Paul,
    At the last public meeting, I wasn’t planning to speak since Yinn, Kay, Gracie and some council members had already made my points. But I did speak on a procedural matter: I asked the council to leave the public meeting open, rather than close it. They concurred. That means that citizens have two chances to speak at the meeting monday. During the public hearing they can offer any and all comments they want on budget matters. In public hearings rules (though not sure if council is fully aware of them) allow citizens far more scope in what they say than otherwise. Then if the budget is a formal motion, which it will be, citizens can speak again (I think) but now limited by the rules council has set including the 3 minute rule.

    Now I’m moving into the descriptive not prescriptive. Questions posed at public hearings at times actually get answered during the hearings. And, with certain procedural constraints a type of give and take can occur. In contrast, the commentary period during a formal meeting on a motion is precisely that: an opportunity for a citizen to make a comment with no further obligation on the council’s or staff’s part.

    That’s why I moved to keep the public hearing open.

    Anyway Paul, show up and speak.

    Herb

  11. Q) Also, did anyone other than yourself show up with at least a list of questions if not the whole type of report you prepared?

    Others on the committee do not have the support (Gracie) I have to devote the amount of time that it took to put together my report. Others had recommendations and are working towards finalization of their reports to have as back up material for the Tuesday special meeting.

    Does the committee have a chair?
    Frank appointed Mike Peddle as chair.

    Who will write the committee’s report?
    The committee decided against doing a consensus report since the only consensus that matters is the city council. Each member will make their recommendations.

    Was the Chronicle there at the meeting? In general, who attended.
    A reporter from the Chronicle was present. In attendance: Mike Peddle, Mike Larson, Marianne Anderson, Gary Peele, Cohen Barnes and myself; Rudy Espiritu and Patti Raih? from staff.

  12. Thanks mac for the info

    Hopefully rudy with patti will prepare notes for council. Patti’s notes for plan commission, at least when I was on it, were first rate.

    Herb

  13. Thanks, Paul, but I am the daughter of a now retired, 40-year employee of the airline industry. It probably does come down to use. Very few people here use the airport (until Corn Fest this year)–out of sight, out of mind.

    I am also the daughter of a now retired assistant principal of a grade school. They were both here for Memorial Day. They got a drive-by tour of the airport and we discussed the schools. She knows a lot about stupid decisions that a school district near her made. By the way, Mother thinks the expenditure per student should be around $4,000 per year. When I told her I saw statistics that showed DeKalb spent around $8,000, her reaction was, “Something is wrong.” Taking into consideration the differences in cost of living, though, perhaps that should be around $5,000 for here and $4,000 where they live. The property taxes here shock them. They see the June payment and think that’s for the whole year!!!

    It may be time for a citizens’ group to look at the school budget, too.

    Unrelated:
    A buddy of mine who lives in Lee County said their property taxes went *down* by $500 this year.

  14. Primary problem with funding of education in illinois is that its dependence on local property tax. The following is an advocacy site pushing to move education funding to the state income tax. The figures though seem to show that per pupil costs are way highre than Mother thinks.

    http://www.aplusillinois.org/issues/facts.asp

    My memory for state average is in the 7-8000 dollar a year range, but I’m sure some of the net sophisticates will more easily come up with the actual figure

    Bessie C has been organizing a group to push for more state funding and less dependence on property tax
    Herb

  15. Well, even before Jonathan Kozol’s book back in the 1990s, Savage Inequalities, folks tried to change school funding. Right now is not the time to shift local funding to state, at least not in this state. Ask Rep. Pritchard how long Hinckley’s school continues to wait for promised funding that is not forthcoming. I am also one who considers taxes as taxes–the output may be federal, state, or local but the input is always the same, US. If a school is inefficient, that should be addressed first, not shifting the tax burden from one taxing body to another.

    Instead of trying to change the topic, here’s the school budget:

    http://www.dist428.org/admin/budget/form.PDF

    Based on last year’s dates, there should be a public hearing for the 2009 budget sometime in September.

  16. I’ll be posting a revised city budget report when I get back to DeKalb later today. Staff has revised the Comparable Communities chart they provided and the new report will reflect those changes.

    Re: school… glad its September. :-)

    Awaiting agenda postings for Monday AND Tuesday meetings. Public input is needed, more details coming.

  17. Mac
    Is there any interest in making your committee a standing committee that will continue past the passing of the FY09 budget. Would you and the other members consider serving on a committee that remains for the length of the budget to review the expenditires and budget throughout the fiscal year. Maybe meeting once every quarter or twice during the year to track the budget and maybe be sure the additional line items previously discussed are properly tracked and reported??

    Just a thoguht.

    Pevo

  18. Ed,
    When i e-mailed council suggesting the advisory board, council seemed to want to make it into a standing committee. Reason given to have it as a ad hoc committee was that the mayor could immediately appoint such a committee. Standing committee requires change in bylaws that take a couple of meetings to do and there was not time prior to June 1.

    We must though remind staff or council to request that the ordinance to set up a standing committee is needed. (Same thing happened with the change in speaking order at the council meetings. Council alters agenda each meeting so citizens can speak first, Last meeting, I think, reading was done of bylaw change to have it so citizens regularly get to speak first).

    Why not just drop a note to council reminding them that they should ask staff for wording changes to make the financial advisory committee a standing committee. I suspect full support will be there.

    herb

  19. I think the first step is to actually see what the council does with the advice they receive. If they do little to nothing, why have a committee. If they value the committee’s advice and incorporate many of the suggestions along with several more of their own, I would say that it would be very beneficial to have a permanent committee to advise.

  20. I agree Ivan. We are almost out of time for the 09 Budget. I certainly hope that the City Council doesn’t get bogged down with looking at long term issues but instead incorporates some of the suggestions that could actually cut THIS YEAR’S budget. There are concrete ideas on the table… I hope they listen.
    However I also agree that if they don’t listen…. then why keep meeting? Election time is just around the corner………

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