Archive for May, 2014

I’ve read the College Town Partners documents that were leaked to the Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) group. (Want copies? Send an email to preserveourneighborhoods@gmail.com.)

The agreements, which were never signed, lay out a corporate partnership between City of DeKalb, NIU, a local developer and two banks.

They strike me as kind of nuts, actually, being fraught with conflicts of interest that government bodies could never ignore. Whoever developed them — at this point I’m envisioning somebody’s partially demented but clout-heavy uncle who must be humored — possesses no grasp of the “public” part of public projects.

For example, the agreements place the DeKalb city manager in the position of manager of a self-interested company operating in the same community. They also attempt to make rules for the participation of the government bodies (e.g.: confidentiality, non-compete clause, predetermined developer) but that’s the flip of what’s supposed to happen.

The plans as written didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in sunlight. Still, somebody thought enough of them to stuff 60 pages into an envelope to mail to the PON folks. Why? I think it must be a warning that an awful lot of planning has been going on behind closed doors, and that some of it may not represent the public interest.

Speaking of which, let’s look at the recent naughtiness of your mayor that ties in here. Read the rest of this entry

**Update 2:15 p.m.: The Daily Chronicle has posted the Memorandum of Understanding referred to in the press release. Don’t miss the confidentiality rules (Item 16) on page 7.**

The following is a press release from the Preserve Our Neighborhoods group, the organization that sparked a recent town-hall style meeting to clear the air on the city’s and NIU’s redevelopment plans. Read the rest of this entry

I am loving the budget talks, mostly. They make me feel like the city is in much better hands than it used to be.

For example, in response to a question from a Financial Advisory Committee member last Saturday, the city manager confirmed: Revenues that for the previous year had been spent out of (off-budget) balance sheet accounts have all been returned to the budget.

We probably dodged a bullet, and by that I mean city administrators have reversed a corrupt trend that eventually could have rendered meaningless the annual DeKalb budget.

But we still have the same council.

Fifth Ward Alderman Ron Naylor and 3rd Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash contended the city has held the line on property taxes because the dollar amount the city collects has not changed much in previous years.

“When I look at it from year to year and see that I’m paying the same amount from year to year, that’s not an increase,” Lash said. “I’m paying the same amount.”

David Jacobson, 1st Ward alderman, contended “holding the line” could be seen as a tax increase considering the drop in property values.

Jacobson is right, but in my opinion he is not going far enough. We should figure out how much the conscientious underfunding of the pensions during the past decade has cost us.

You see, every dollar we short the pension funds is a dollar that can’t be invested. I don’t know about you, but my assets have performed very well the past few years — it’s a shame that our pension funds couldn’t have maximized their earnings in this market.

That’s not to say that underfunding is the only problem with the public pensions. It’s not. But a council truly serious about “holding the line” for our sake would be doing a bit less self-pleasuring and a lot more work toward a solution.

Related:

Painting a Picture of DeKalb’s Pensions

The special joint meeting between city council members and the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) on Saturday filled in a lot of blanks, even for — or maybe especially for — folks who have reviewed the FY2015 City of DeKalb budget including its excellent Transmittal Letter.

One of the changes proposed by city manager Anne Marie Gaura is to split off community development services from Public Works and place them into their own department. Community Development would then handle and/or oversee the following:

  • Planning & economic development
  • Building services such as code enforcement
  • Community Development Block Grant administration
  • One part of the argument is that Community Development functions are not Public Works core competencies. Splitting them off would allow PW to better concentrate on the budgetary and strategic priority of infrastructure.

    Also there is a track record to consider. As you are probably aware, the city has placed a building supervisor and two building inspectors on administrative leave as it debates their fates vs. the proposed reorganization. From the budgetary Transmittal Letter:

    In the past year, the City has seen a number of very public, very unfortunate business closures and even building collapses. In order to protect public safety, changes in the City’s operations are essential.

    On Saturday it came out (during the Workers Comp discussion, actually) that the police officer who was injured by falling through the floor of the old Wurlitzer building may remain permanently disabled. Read the rest of this entry

    FY2014 General Fund Budget: $30.87 million
    FY2015 General Fund Budget: $35.22 million

    Does this reflect $4 million in revenue growth for City of DeKalb? No, it does not. For one thing, FY2015 currently shows a deficit of $586,800. It is not a balanced budget (at least not yet, though they may not be done with it).

    Also, more than $2 million of the shown increase is a result of the city manager’s effort to record more revenues and expenditures in the actual budget.

    Let that statement sink in for a min.

    And we are not just talking about bringing the Administrative Tow account into the budget picture.

    [T]he Home Rule and State Sales Taxes are being revised to show the gross sales tax revenue. In previous years, the sales taxes were shown as a ‘net’ income, after deduction of sales tax abatements with DeKalb County and the City of Sycamore.

    The result of the change is that, for the first time, we can look at sales tax revenues and it’s the real number. And for the first time, we can look at expenditures and find out that tax-sharing agreements are expected to cost us about $2.1 million next fiscal year.

    It’s another reason to feel pretty good about how the budgeting process is going under new city management.

    An alert reader tipped me off that the DeKalb Public Library added about $10.5 million to its fund balance last year (see FY2013 column, bottom line; click & magnify to see it bigger).

    FY2015 Library Budget 2of2 photo LibraryBudget2of2_zpsc6c1348a.jpg

    Nice, huh? Wherever did it come from? Let’s check the revenues.

     photo LibraryBudget1of2_zps3855ef75.jpg

    Hmmm. Not here, either — and we still have to account for $8.5 million and change.

    Doesn’t seem like just a typo or simple arithmetic error. Probably bond proceeds or the state construction grant came in and somebody neglected to add it to the appropriate line item.

    Whatever the answer is, it seems a pretty large mistake to slip by to this stage. Just sayin’.

    Meet the New Boss

    Behold the new organizational chart of the City of DeKalb.

    New Organizational Chart FY15 photo neworganizationalchart_zps0d8ce6a1.jpg

    It’s part of the draft budget for FY2015.

    Recommended reading: the city manager’s 14-page Transmittal Letter to the council, which begins on page 8 of the PDF file. Spend some time with it and see if you don’t feel like you’re finally in the loop. And that the city truly is under new management.

    From the Daily Chronicle today comes “DeKalb aldermen confront budgeting issues.”

    During their Monday discussion of the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, DeKalb aldermen were told the city will need to cut services or boost revenue in order to maintain operations in the coming years.

    Beginning July 1, alderman were told, the city should shift its structure and look at the way the general fund is used.

    “The main thing is the current structure of how everything is put together is not sustainable,” City Manager Anne Marie Gaura said. “Something has to change and that will require policy decisions in the coming months and coming years on how to address this long-term.”

    Gee, where have I heard this before? Read the rest of this entry

    The Daily Chronicle notes that new DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura has made some personnel changes. I am particularly gratified by this statement:

    The moves all deal with personnel issues, a subject on which employers are generally limited on what they can say, but they could have announced they happened.

    The Chronicle’s actual main point is that Gaura is shaking things up and it looks like the aim is to save money while improving service. This is something I’d love to embrace 100% but I keep getting hung up on the city’s failure to communicate these decisions until confronted.

    By passing up opportunities to announce changes, DeKalb is squandering opportunities to rebuild trust that previous city leaders destroyed through a culture of dishonesty and secrecy.

    Speaking of which, have you seen the video of Saturday’s town hall meeting yet? Distrust and suspicion were recurring themes.

    Mayor Rey has un-ironically declared on his Facebook page, “I see a better, safer and more transparent DeKalb.”

    Yet DeKalb is a town that:

    — Told no one that its finance director had resigned until specifically asked about it more than a month later.

    — Refused to announce the location of its warming center during the worst of the winter.

    — Allowed citizens to find out the hard way last week that there was no one available to issue the permits that they needed.

    The above events don’t reflect a better, safer or more transparent DeKalb. They are anti-public relations and furthermore enough removed from common sense as to have ventured a toe into the realm of the bizarre.

    NIU president Baker and the mayor each spoke to the group, as did NIU vice-president Bill Nicklas and an architect who explained the process involved in the development of the Bold Futures Thesis.

    In a nutshell, NIU wants to transform the thesis into a real plan for better use of the physical campus in nurturing a sense of place. It is one of several initiatives they hope will improve enrollment and retention of the hip, urban Millennial Generation.

    When audience members expressed concern that the university is also pushing development plans for nearby historic neighborhoods without their input, the NIU representatives seemed genuinely surprised that they’d reached this conclusion. The NIU thesis isn’t a plan yet, they said; and besides, the focus is on the campus center.

    Funny. I’d reached the same conclusion that the audience did when I attended the March 15 City of DeKalb strategic planning meeting. There, VP Nicklas shared his top budget priorities that involved the city and my notes show one of them is “Locust Street enhancements.”

    So, I think maybe the NIU folks are back-pedaling a little.

    However, I also believe the city has hitched its caboose to the NIU train with a little sleight-of-hand. Read the rest of this entry