From the Daily Chronicle’s weekend edition:
The city of DeKalb is without a finance director after Laura Pisarcik resigned the same week city Manager Anne Marie Gaura announced financial consultants would review the city’s financial policies and procedures.
Ordinarily I’d applaud the sight of heads rolling for the sake of accountability. This time I can’t. Here’s the problem: Though the Daily Chronicle published the news yesterday, Pisarcik resigned the first week of March. Her absence was discovered by accident last week, when somebody noticed her name had been removed from the city’s website and thought to ask about it. (Yeah, that was me.)
A city department head has been gone for a month without a public announcement of the departure? I wonder why?
Gaura acknowledged there is a separation agreement between the city and Pisarcik, but declined to disclose the details.
Does Ms. Gaura think she can withhold these details indefinitely? I’ve already submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, and please note I’ve never been denied copies of any contract. And when it comes specifically to separation agreements, we have only to recall that the Chronicle had no problem obtaining agreements signed with former city clerk Steve Kapitan and former park district executive director Cindy Capek.
There’s no doubt the separation agreement will come out. Also, Laura Pisarcik would have been missed at the next budget meeting, right? The city manager has blown, for no good reason, an opportunity to build trust with the community.
City of DeKalb’s use of administrative tow fees brings up lots of questions, such as how many of these off-budget accounts the city has and whether their collective use rises to the title of “shadow budget.”
I don’t have the answers to the above questions, but I do know that even off-budget transactions are included in the invoice payment listings, aka check register. And thanks to the new account coding, you can usually easily tell what type of account each purchase is charged to, should this be of interest to you. Read the rest of this entry
The Daily Chronicle may have just published one of the most important investigative reports ever written about City of DeKalb finances.
Since early 2013, the DeKalb Police Department has used around $300,000 of the $350,000 collected in administrative tow fees to buy a wide range of items outside of its regular budget.
There are a lot of potential issues arising from this revelation, from whether the tow fee ordinance is fair to how much the equipping of the new police station might have gone over budget. The article seems to suggest that, right now, the city is mostly concerned about the administrative tow ordinance itself coming under attack. But to me, we’re taking our eyes off the prize if we stray too far from the simple fact that $300,000 in public spending was not publicly accounted for in 2013.
I mean, doesn’t it make you wonder:
What other accounts holding fines and fees are used for “extras”?
How this might relate to the $3-million-plus “excess expenditures over budget” that the city’s auditors found noteworthy?
Why the city has begun changing the policy even while insisting there’s nothing wrong with the status quo?
That’s just for starters. So I’m going to keep my eyeballs on this for awhile, yes, yes indeedy.
**Update, noonish: Just picked this up on Twitter: IL Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) is sponsoring legislation to help prevent thefts of local government funds. One of the key provisions includes auditors’ sharing copies of the management letters with the governing bodies of counties and municipalities.**
Recently I became aware that each annual financial audit includes an auditor’s “letter to management” with comments and recommendations. As far as I know, such letters are not published (perhaps due to inclusion of deficiencies that some would find embarrassing) but a citizen can obtain them via Freedom of Information Act requests and I did.
This piece of the FY2013 letter caught my attention:
“Excess of actual expenditures over budget” to the tune of $3.1 million is pretty major, especially for a town that supposedly is striving to meet a target to hold the equivalent of 25% of its General Fund balance in reserve.
Why isn’t the overspending big news? When it comes to the General Fund, the city enjoyed revenues that exceeded projections for the year — enough to cover the excess spending and a bit more. I guess the philosophy is, if you don’t end up with an actual deficit in your GF, it doesn’t matter what you spend.
Other funds, such as Equipment and Fleet, aren’t so easy to explain. For example, Equipment had excess expenditures of $512,680 according to the letter, yet total expenditures as shown in FY2013 estimates (which are part of the FY2014 budget) are only $259,310. Fleet has a similar story. Did someone OK last-minute spending sprees that didn’t make it into the FY2013 budget estimates? What should we make of this?
Filed under: City Watch
, Payment Due?
| Tagged as: budget
First, let’s update our pension percentage-funded chart with the FY2013 numbers. These are from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs).
City of DeKalb is quick to tout its balanced budgets and its growing “reserves.” But if DeKalb is doing so well, why isn’t it making up the pension-funding ground it lost during the past two recessions? Read the rest of this entry
From a Northern Star article this week:
City manager Anne Marie Gaura said the finance committee typically reviews the budget and looks at policy recommendations and general fund balance.
“The goal is to utilize the finance advisory committee in the most effective means of how to benefit the budget and the community,” Gaura said. “It’s an incredibly talented group, and we want to make sure we’re utilizing their talents to the maximum.”
If we REALLY want to utilize the talents of the city’s Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) to the max, we need to move it past budgets. Read the rest of this entry
This is more from the June 2013 Benefits Hours Report I was telling you about yesterday.
|300 Sick Pay||4,172.75||79,776.10||3,073,591.38
|500 Comp Used||1,974.75||12,397.48||457,938.93
|550 Floating Hldy||384.00||185.00||8,590.87
|560 Banked Comp||45.00||16,427.10||807,522.19
|301 Sick Pay Fire||2,274.25||50,421.75||1,544,619.90
|401 Vacation Fire||7,920.00||10,608.00||326,591.66
|501 Comp Used Fire||.00||317.63||10,018.57
|561 Banked Comp Fire||.00||2,169.64||68,972.21
You can see that the banked comp (560) truly is banked, and the administrator-depositors are enjoying nice, risk-free annual increases when raises and COLAs are applied.
The caps on unused sick leave are very high in all departments. In fact, there are about 50 city employees who, thanks to overly-generous sick leave and/or comp time policies, could quit their jobs tomorrow and potentially walk away with checks for more than $50,000. Read the rest of this entry
***Clarification*** added 12/3 due to a question that came up in this Facebook discussion: Firefighters often work overtime and they almost always receive overtime pay for it. However, according to their contract they might with permission accumulate a little comp time instead, up to 205 hours, after which no more comp time is permitted to be accumulated. My investigation of firefighter comp time actually turned out to be a red herring when it comes to high accumulations of paid leave and I only mentioned it to show that the path to the truth is not always linear.***
I’ve continued to look at the DeKalb firefighters’ current labor contract with the city since it is set to expire at the end of June. It says that fire personnel may accumulate up to 205 hours of comp time, so I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for comp time records for firefighters at about the end of the 2013 fiscal year (end of June or early July).
Luckily, I received more than I asked for because DeKalb Fire isn’t so much the story here.
Below is information about banked comp time hours drawn from a Benefit Hours Report that was generated June 26, 2013. Repeat: This is banked comp time only.
|Name & Position/Dept.||Banked Hours Available||Available Cost
|Espiritu (Asst. City Mgr.)||689.8||45,399.19
|Cleveland (Airport Mgr.)||1660.0||75,525.02
|Hicks (Fire Chief)||640.5||39,456.72
Another two dozen city employees had banked $5,000 to $25,000 in comp by the time of the report.
I’ll put up more numbers later this week.
Related post: On the Trail of the Legendary Comp Time Monster.
I can’t believe hikes in taxes are even up for discussion.
Consultants estimated one option for renovating City Hall – including upgrades to the heating and cooling system, plumbing and fire protection system, among other things – would cost $3.7 million. City Council members also are exploring spending $7.5 million on renovations, with $5.5 million of that coming from tax increment financing dollars and $2 million coming from increases to gasoline taxes, water bills or property taxes.
From the article it sounds like Aldermen Jacobson, Snow and Baker do not support a plan to raise our taxes for this. Good. It’s bad enough the city will likely have to use TIF money to upgrade the HVAC instead of addressing our rotting neighborhoods, but raising taxes to put council chambers on the first floor would be absolutely obscene in view of the bills coming due for unpaid pension liabilities, public building construction and whopping raises for the rookie staff.
As an aside, I returned to my old home town in Indiana last weekend — you know, the one with real TIF oversight and an Ethics Commission, among other things. We paid 7% tax on our lunch bill, and when we went downtown near 7 p.m. on Friday we found the sidewalks filled with students and families and all the downtown shops lit and open.
A Chronicle article last week talks about all the new building, equipment and personnel the City of DeKalb is investing into its fire department.
I read the article after just having skimmed through the city’s check register for August. The police department spent, among other things, $125,000+ on software and $2600 on the new dog, including $79.95 for a water bowl. They seem to be having fun. Read the rest of this entry