Archive for the ‘ City Watch ’ Category

As indicated a few days ago, I have concerns about DeKalb’s hotel/motel inspection and licensing ordinance.

The good news is, the city does recognize that some people are permanent residents of hotels and motels.

“Permanent resident” means any person who occupied or has the right to occupy any room or rooms in a hotel or motel for not less than thirty (30) consecutive days.

However, status as a “permanent resident” only means that the usual 7% hotel/motel tax is not charged. It has nothing to do with tenancy or conferring tenants’ rights in long-term living situations in motels.

This is consistent with state law, which tends to keep considerations of landlords and innkeepers separate. Generally such a separation plays out reasonably, except in the case of people having to use cheap motels to keep a couple of walls between themselves and the streets on a long-term and/or indefinite basis.

Let’s consider how this works in case of a motel shutdown such as City of DeKalb’s closure of the Travel Inn.

In an email, Mayor Rey said, “The City is very sensitive to dispersing permanent residents from short-term rentals onto the streets. It is my understanding Lynne that due notice is given upon such displacements.”

“Due notice” is not required by DeKalb ordinance, and my Freedom of Information Act request returned no evidence of any such notice. Yet, conversation on Facebook suggests that people were indeed booted out onto the street.

Mayor Rey also said:

The closure of the local motel was not a result of city causation. We were merely enforcing health/sanitary living condition standards for short-term rental available to visitors.

Irony alert! Living on the street can be bad for your health, too, which is why people will put up with fleabag conditions to avoid it. Especially those with children.

I’m also pretty sure that if harm should come to someone as a direct result of being kicked out of his or her residence without time to make other arrangements, it would put the city at risk of legal action.

The larger issue, of course, is simply one of conscience. I want local government to have one. You?

Originally, I had no plans to publish this email exchange. It was just me as Joan Q. Public, sending an opinion on a budget allocation to His Honor and to other DeKalb city council members I thought might be receptive. I expected a generic “thanks for the input” response, which would have been fine.

But the conversation, which began in June, became extraordinary and eventually sparked a Freedom of Information Act request; and after digesting the response to that request, I’ve decided to share the emails with you. Read the rest of this entry

This is an item from the May 27 council meeting agenda that I’ve been meaning to address.

It’s about a water main project on South 4th Street.

This project would have abandoned a 6” water main on the west side of Route 23 (South Fourth Street) from Lacas Street south to approximately 110 feet south of Charter Street. There are approximately twenty services that would have been be disconnected from the 6” main on the west side of Route 23 and be reconnected to the 8” main on the east side.

The project was already coordinated with the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is planning to resurface Route 23. It does make sense to do the underground work first if possible.

However, at the May 27 council meeting the one proposal sent in was rejected. Read the rest of this entry

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.