Budget Workshop Open Thread 2

Last night the Engineering budget was scrutinized. There were some good questions, I learned a thing or two, and there was much less shouting at the TV. However, I observed a fundamental error in thinking and that is the tying of salaries to permit revenues. This is one reason we got into such a mess in the first place, by trying to match up fixed costs to variable revenues. Sure, there’s a relationship but it can’t be as direct as saying we will hire as many people as will match the current revenue level, because then we have to cut ruthlessly when revenues are down–and as you can see we are quite terrible at it. There’s a better way.

What should happen is that we retain as many in-house staff as are required to cover the tasks that we only want in-house staff doing, then contract as necessary for the rest. The permanent employees can take on other duties when times are slow (and it does sound like they are doing this). Permit revenue levels, of course, would be a leading indicator of need but would more properly be tied to the contract work, to equipment purchases and to other, more variable functions.

One argument made last night that I do not buy is that the city needs in-house in order to respond quickly when development strikes. Hah! By all accounts, DeKalb has its own pace in this area, and glacial is its name, oh.

There were some remarks made about cross-training, which I support generally but, again, there’s a right way and a wrong way. It’s one thing to have your community development people helping drive snowplows in the winter when there’s not much else for them to do. It’s quite another to cross-train your legal department on liquor issues and then have them co-opt these duties at a significantly higher rate of pay. And, did I hear that IT is doing transcriptions? These are not very cost-effective divisions of labor. Legal and IT have been allowed to act like amoebas in the last few, absorbing and growing out of proportion to needs.

Which reminds me: Should the clerk’s office take back liquor license work and take on information officer duties, I would support keeping current staff levels.

6 thoughts on “Budget Workshop Open Thread 2”

  1. Ooh, a good ol’ fashioned head tax:

    PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The mayor of Providence wants to slap a $150-per-semester tax on the 25,000 full-time students at Brown University and three other private colleges in the city, saying they use resources and should help ease the burden on struggling taxpayers.

    Mayor David Cicilline said the fee would raise between $6 million and $8 million a year for the city, which is facing a $17 million deficit.

    Cities often look for revenue from universities to compensate for their tax-exempt status, and many schools already make voluntary payments to local governments. Providence’s four private schools — Brown, Providence College, Johnson & Wales University and the Rhode Island School of Design — agreed in 2003 to pay the city nearly $50 million over 20 years.

    The idea of a student head tax has been floated before in other cities, generally to start discussions about collecting money from universities in lieu of taxes.

    Payment in lieu of taxes: PILOT. That’s been talked about in DeKalb before.

  2. I have always wondered why a community isn’t entitled to do this. DeKalb offers many services to the university and it just doesn’t make sense that the university doesn’t understand or admit to the fact that our police department has a very heavy burden placed on them during school session. It is many times that the city police department are protecting their students and staff on campus and in surrounding areas immediately off campus areas.

    It is very much so that the university refuses to join in the notion of “communiversity” with this community. Instead, they are always looking at ways of how to have the community help them and many times it is NIU that has the better opportunity at resources.

    I for one do feel that we need to refactor the costs of paramedic and fire services to NIU. It seems to be the one way that we can charge them for anything. Just being fair to the community of DeKalb, many of the overtime hours and the need for manpower is a result of us being there for NIU. I would also say that we need to evaluate our agreement with Cortland.

    I know the past Fire Chief was saying that the Cortland contract gives us extra money but we need to look at the shortage of manpower currently at the Fire Department and maybe not renewing with Cortland or doubling the fee would be worth evaluating. The fact is that there is a strain and burden that taxpayers in DeKalb do have with regards to NIU and Cortland.

  3. I think we are entitled to do this. As a Home Rule community in Illinois, the only tax we can’t impose is an income tax.

    That’s not to say I support this. It’s too new to me to say.

    As for either of our contracts, NIU or Cortland: Last year during the budget hearings, the fire chief was unable to tell us whether the contracted amounts covered the actual costs. That’s a red flag to me. If we can’t say yes with certainty, then the answer is probably no, it doesn’t cover the costs.

  4. I heard on the street Yinn that DeKalb’s price to Cortland overwhelmingly beat private ambulance companies that bid to provide service. I do not feel that the mutual aid agreement that area fire departments have should mean that our ambulance service should be available 100% of the time.

    I can surely understand a major incident when their ambulance company is busy or their is a major accident that would benefit from our fire fighters expertise. Being spread out between Cortland and NIU and then having to cover the “taxpayers” really does put the paramedics in a bind which is also a reason that even firefighters are and have been trained as EMT’s and paramedics.

    I believe this to be a contributing cause for overtime within our department. The responsible parties should help pay for this.

  5. Well, here we go again. The 2009 edition of another useless expense that could actually be this year’s “Skating rink”.

    Mayor Povlsen and the city council want to spend $40,000.00 on cameras to watch the Recycling dumpsters. GIVE ME A BREAK…here we go again. More government waste. I wonder if the city will televise the Dumpster security cameras on it’s website. That will be entertaining viewing!

    Maybe we can get a special City Council dumpster to accompany the Landscape waste dumpsters. This dumpster can be used to recycle Mr Povlsen’s Nonsensical Tax-raising schemes and ridiculous tax dollar spending ideas.

    $40,000.00 our your taxpayer dolloars ..going to “Waste” – Pun Intended!

  6. I have to disagree with you on this one, Mark. This year’s skating rink will be in the form of up to $17,000 for Re:New to advertise streetscape construction. Another “We are Renewing DeKalb” sign?

    The Dumpster cameras might be a good thing if they inhibit improper usage b/c it does happen often; another answer is to remove them permanently and nobody wants that. It would be helpful to know how much it costs to clear out foreign objects from recycling and landscape containers as well as who is bearing the cost, and why it is it has to be $40,000.

    We should ask about re-using the camera that was used for the parking lot construction since we paid a pretty penny for that.

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