A friend of mine asked a couple weeks ago whether there is some way to calculate how much growth there’s been of bureaucrats in city government. Like many locals, I know that the DeKalb city manager has been generally allowed to spin off new departments and hire new administrators without restraint, but we’re somewhat lacking in numbers.

The main question: Just how top-heavy has the city become?

My approach was to look at departments funded by the General Fund — and divisions of these departments, where applicable — with a view toward defining what makes each particular department/division primarily about administration, versus frontline public safety, versus none of the above.

The details of the methodology are placed at the end of this post.

Going back far enough that I could fully appreciate what Mayor Rey and Manager Gaura have wrought, I found that expenses in the General Fund (GF) have grown by $6 million since FY2013.* Roughly $4 million of it has gone to the public safety category of police and fire personnel ($2.65 and $1.33 million, respectively) and $2 million towards administrative functions in GF departments.

To break it down further, of the $2 million for admin, a bit more than $300,000 has gone into the administrative divisions of police and fire, and the rest of it to the city manager’s office and the creation/expansion of the HR, IT, and Community Development departments.

They’re getting more in terms of GF dollars, but so is almost everybody. Are the admins actually getting a larger slice of the pie than they used to? Yes. The administrative piece from FY2011 through FY2014 averaged 21.5% of the admin-public safety total, but now its share exceeds 26%.

Public Works gets no pie, particularly not its Streets Division, which has had virtually the same budget since the personnel reduction and organization of FY2011.


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What I did was to separate the city’s general operating budget, called the General Fund (GF), into three main categories: Administrative, Public Safety, and Other. Each department — and each division of a department, where applicable — has its own budget summary, and I made a decision about category for each of the summaries.

What I included in the Administrative category is: any department that serves the entire city organization, any department that is primarily made up of administrators, and any division of a department that is specifically administrative. Therefore, Administrative includes Office of the City Manager, Human Resources Department, IT Department, Finance Department, departments and divisions that are called Community Development or Economic Development, and the administrative divisions of the Police Department, Fire Department, and Public Works (PW).

I’m not sure most such analyses bother to distinguish the administrative divisions of police, fire, and PW, but it made sense as I was also interested in determining whether these departments were becoming top-heavy as well. (The answer is no.)

Public Safety includes the non-administrative divisions of PD, FD, and PW. I did not include the divisions of PW that are paid out of Airport and Water Funds, as this analysis strictly examines GF. I also stuck Legislative in this category because this department is non-administrative. However, the impact of its budget on the results is quite minimal either way, so I found I could have excluded it entirely, as I did the now-phased-out budget of the Office of the City Clerk.

“Other” consists of expenses that are mostly irrelevant to answering the question of Administrative overreach. It’s primarily about General Fund Support, which is an accounting of GF money that can’t be assigned to a particular department. Examples of line items in GF support include payments for tax-sharing agreements, transfers of GF monies to other funds, and contingencies. I only used the numbers in “Other” to help check my math.

I used actual spending, not budgeted numbers except, of course, for the current budget year. In the FY2017 budget, for example, are reported the actual expenditures from FY2015 and FY2016 alongside the FY2017 projections. Using the actual helps erase the problem caused by the city’s continual failure to post amended budgets as they are changed.

Budgets going back to FY2008 are available at the city’s website.

*It does NOT follow that revenues have grown organically at a rate to cover the increases in expenses. They raised property taxes by $824,000 to meet the expense demands of the 6-month budget, FY2016.5, and then hiked them another $700,000 to see the city through this year.