Archive for January, 2013

Last night I was lucky to attend the candidates’ night hosted by the DeKalb Area Rental Association. Candidates running for DeKalb mayor and aldermen participated.

Some performances I liked real well, others I didn’t. Later, I realized the people who impressed me the least were the ones promising regular town hall meetings, ward coffee sessions, open-door policies, transparency!™ and citizen input up the wazoo. Read the rest of this entry

Here’s the latest.

DeKalb library leaders asked the DeKalb City Council on Monday if it would consider borrowing $7.5 million for the $24 million construction project, which would add 47,000 square feet to the 19,000-square-foot building at 309 Oak St. Library leaders need to secure $15.5 million by June 1 to qualify for an $8.5 million state construction grant they were offered last month.

No, that’s not quite right. They weren’t “offered” anything. DKPL applied for the grant last April and its number finally came up, probably because a couple other libraries lost referenda in November (but we don’t know for sure, because I’ve been foiled in my FOIA inquiry).

It’s a crying shame for taxpayers that DKPL turned in an application with a plan to spend $24 million, because the eligible construction costs only come to about $13 million. This means there are a lot of goodies in there that the state won’t cover. When DKPL board members say they really, really tried so hard to save taxpayers money, the fitting response is a derisive laugh, IMO. Read the rest of this entry

Be Prepared for a $24 Million Tab

The discussion about the city’s issuing bonds on behalf of DeKalb Public Library for its expansion starts at the Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday.

In order to secure the $15.5M needed for the expansion, the Library has a plan of financing for City Council consideration. The Library will use $1M in Library fund balance and is planning to raise $6M in donations. The Library is requesting $1M from the City from TIF funds. For the remaining $7.5M, the Library will bond this amount, which will be a general obligation bond paid by property taxes. The Library is a component unit of the City; therefore the City would have to issue these bonds on behalf of the Library.

Discussion and direction is requested on the $1.M contribution from the TIF fund, the bonding for the $7.5M remaining balance, and the timing of these actions. The City’s Financial Advisor will be present to assist the Council in this discussion.

This is the biggest bunch of hooey ever. There is no way DKPL will do the work necessary to raise the promised private donations because the City of DeKalb is its sugar daddy. I believe it is also quite possible that the State of Illinois will be good for nothing much beyond IOUs. Be prepared for us to be on the hook 100% for another overbuilt monument to our particularly destructive brand of hubris.

DeKalb Public Library has finally shared with the Daily Chronicle the expected full cost of its expansion plan: $24 million.

This is amazing to me. I was there a few weeks ago and director Dee Coover told me the board had cut back the expansion plan by one-third to adjust to lowered population projections. Does this mean the original price tag was $36 million, or that the price tag is the same, with one-third less space but more bells and whistles?

At any rate, we do have some facts to chew on:

  • The estimated cost is twice that of DeKalb’s new police station.

  • Our neighbor Aurora approved an expansion plan for its library system last year that cost $30 million — but Aurora is five times the size of DeKalb and has two branches and a bookmobile.

  • The state grant of $8.5 million covers a little less than 65% of eligible construction costs, meaning DeKalb’s eligible costs come to about $13 million. It also means that up to $11 million of the total cost comprises extras not allowable under the grant program.

For these reasons, my earlier dubbing of the expansion proposal as the “Taj-Mah Library” still stands. Especially as DeKalb is becoming smaller and poorer.

The facts also don’t help to quell very serious doubts — from both fiscal and legal standpoints — that the city should not be issuing bonds on behalf of DKPL.

That’s not to say I’m anti-expansion. I’m not, and in fact I’m generally not strictly anti-anything except for “ends-justify-the-means” excuses, entitlement mentality, illegality, incompetence, lying and other sins and failures of public morality.

DeKalb TIF Absurdity

Wow, today’s Chronicle article about TIF seems very one-sided and in need of additional viewpoints.

That’s what blogs are for!

Let’s start with the statement about Sycamore Road.

DeKalb’s districts helped revitalize Sycamore Road with the additions of Target, Walmart and major shopping corridors.

Revitalize? Do they think Sycamore Road was full of slums? It was mostly farmland. Last I checked, farmland was an asset in DeKalb County. But, to start a TIF district you need to declare the area you want to develop as a sort of disaster area known as “blight.” In Illinois TIF parlance, “blight” is anything a municipality needs it to be, as long as it can persuade the General Assembly and governor to buy in. So…corn fields equal blight in DeKalb.

Yes, it’s a corruption of TIF; and the most amazing part, to me, is how a publication can write about Illinois corruption on a regular basis and yet not recognize local examples of it.

Back to the article. How about this:

“We’re blessed to have the working relationship we do with the taxing districts,” [DeKalb city manager Mark] Biernacki said. “We work to make that longer term more short-term by ending TIF districts in less than 23 years.”

DeKalb’s largest TIF district was amended, expanded and renewed for an additional 11 years in 2008. This assertion of Biernacki’s that DeKalb closes TIFs early should not have gone unchallenged, yet it totally did.

Also going unchallenged is the notion of opening new TIFs in town AT THIS TIME. I can’t believe we are going there and will spend the rest of the post explaining why it we shouldn’t. Read the rest of this entry

**Update: You may have noticed we were offline most of the day yesterday, due to the host’s making a change in server hardware. The last step, restoration of data via a backup, left a draft version of this post that I’ve tinkered with and republished.

Winnebago County has opened up its board committee meetings to public comment, according to an RRStar.com article.

There’s a federal lawsuit involved and the judge in the case has confirmed the requirement for public comment, though the county claims it has always planned to comply with the new provision of the Open Meetings Act anyhow. The Open Meetings Act is a state law.

The county began to allow public comment at committee meetings after the newly elected board organized on Dec. 3. The move was needed to comply with a 2011 change to the Open Meetings Act.

Mike “C” Castronovo filed the lawsuit Feb. 23, 2011 in part because he was denied the ability to speak at a May 2009 Public Works Committee meeting.

Castronovo’s lawsuit stems from a time before the change to the Open Meetings Act, said Deputy State’s Attorney Dave Kurlinkus. The decision to open meetings for public comment was not a response to Castronovo’s lawsuit, “but it certainly was called to our attention through it,” Kurlinkus said.

Maybe it wasn’t a response to the lawsuit, and maybe it was. But hearing from a federal judge on the matter must be somewhat reinforcing, yes? Read the rest of this entry

Because the local library applied for a state construction grant in 2012, I decided to read up on these grants. One result of the research is doubt that all the money from a new library grant “pot” has all gone to libraries — but I am having a difficult time finding out for sure. This is a progress report for citizen watchdogs and others interested in state level grant programs, the Illinois State Library and/or the Freedom of Information Act.

Sandwich Public Library found out about its $1.6 million construction grant award months ago, but word is just now circulating. DeKalb Public Library was likewise notified in July that it wouldn’t receive an award this fiscal year, yet suddenly now it’s getting $8.5 million from the state for its planned expansion.

The questions that arise out of these announcements — and their peculiar timing — are related to what I would describe as an uncharacteristic lack of transparency by the Illinois State Library in administering a $50 million construction grant program. I’ve used the Internet and, just lately, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to try to part the curtains.

Though the FOIA adventure continues, having local libraries and their good fortunes in the news seems a reasonable excuse to lay out the story so far, so here goes. Read the rest of this entry