New Annual Financial Report is Out

City of DeKalb released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30.

I’m sure city staff will also release the Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) as they did last year. It’s a dumbed-down version of the CAFR that nobody asked them to compile, but they get some sort of warm-fuzzy award for it, so it’s all good.

Let’s update some charts. First, the hiring news:

dyerware.com


The hiring spree is still on.

The General Fund budget for personnel expenses this year is $26.9 million, a rise of 2% over last year and a net increase of $500,000 in this budget category. There are a couple reasons why the increase was “only” 2%. The primary reason is that a chunk representing another 2% was sent over to the Water Fund for Water to pay. They’ve also succeeded in reducing health care costs (something I’d like to compliment them on sometime, if only they’d stop annoying me for a minute with the Bozo no-nos).

But wages and pension costs are both increasing well above inflationary levels. I anticipate they will have to come up with $500,000-$700,000 more for this budget category next year.

In other words, despite the rosy picture staff will paint next month in an effort to persuade the city council to hire a human resources director, the council should no way, no how approve any more hires and, in fact, should let attrition do its work for awhile. Read the rest of this entry

Retail on the Bottom

David Patzelt of Shodeen Group, LLC, sent a nice thank-you letter to the DeKalb city manager for attending a meeting between Shodeen principals and city officials in the matter of Shodeen’s latest project proposal. The letter was included in the agenda packet for Wednesday’s meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission. It outlines Shodeen’s arguments against the city’s insistence on its providing retail space on the ground-floor level of the apartment complex plan.

As you know we are a commercial and retail Developer, Builder, Owner and Management Company. Like staff, we too wish that the market in DeKalb was strong enough to support commercial/retail in the lower level of the proposed residential building. As we discussed with you, City staffs position on this being a requirement is unwarranted and unfounded. Even if the City will subsidize the rent as well as commit to a guarantee of rent payments, we do not recommend the addition of retail space at this point in time. Staff continues to be unwilling to accept this without any basis other than a “want.” Empty retail space should not be a “want.”

(The underlined words appear that way in the original.)

No, it’s not a matter of acceptance, nor just a “want.” It’s an actual requirement for the downtown business district. Staff can’t change it. Only city council can.

But an even larger policy change would be the use of rent subsidies and guarantees to get the project built the way the city wants.

We knew we’d have a tussle over TIF funding for redevelopment on this site. Has the city placed other subsidies on the table for consideration?

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I’ve begun a Facebook discussion thread here.

This is popping up on emails from City of DeKalb.

Disclaimer: This is a transmission from the City of DeKalb that is confidential and proprietary. If you are not the intended recipient, copying or distributing the contents of this message is expressly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please destroy it and notify the City immediately. This email is the property of the City of DeKalb and the City reserves the right to retrieve and read any message created, sent or received, including the right to monitor messages of City employees or representatives at any time, without notice. Freedom of Information Act Requests submitted electronically should be submitted to foia@cityofdekalb.com (for general requests) or policefoia@cityofdekalb.com (for requests directed to the Police Department)

1. By default under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), communications generated by, or otherwise under the control of, a public body are public records that belong to all of us. Exceptions for confidentiality or any other reason must be narrowly applied on a case-by-case basis and defensible in court.

2. City of DeKalb is trying to prohibit the copying and distribution of public records? This strikes me as an intimidation tactic. News flash: If information is honestly so sensitive that city people are worried about its going astray, they should send old-fashioned letters, enveloped and certified. But I’ve even seen the message in emails that contain responses to FOIA requests, which are 100% public by definition. Ridiculous.

3. It’s quite disturbing to think that city employees have given themselves the right to spy on their bosses. Whose job descriptions include the “monitoring” of elected officers? Is this why the city manager needs so much more hired help than the last one did?

Conclusion: The blanket disclaimer — which, by the way, I pulled from an email sent by City of DeKalb’s own FOIA officer — is garbage. Copy. Distribute. Share. Laugh. It’s the American thing to do.

New Local Voice

Barry Schrader may have left the Daily Chronicle, but he has joined us bloggers — gasp! — with a new website called DeKalb County Life. I’ve added the site to the City Barbs’s blogroll. Welcome, Barry!

Monday’s city council Committee of the Whole (CoW) meeting includes this:

Consideration of a request by DeKalb School District #428 for TIF assistance in the amount of $2,000,000.

The assistance would go toward construction-related improvements to two schools that lie in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, Founders Elementary and Clinton Rosette Middle School.

Here’s the thing: District 428 already gets a substantial portion of TIF funding, in the form of a surplus that is declared and distributed each year. What’s more, the surplus scheme was specifically engineered to a) make sure the big property tax players signed on to the amended, extended Central Area TIF of 2008, and b) to replace just this sort of intergovernmental agreement between city and school district. Read the rest of this entry

What the Hiring Spree Has Ruined

Former DeKalb Alderman Pam Verbic wrote current Mayor Rey a detailed letter regarding the upcoming property tax levy vote. Find it here. I hope you will read the whole thing.

Each of Ms. Verbic’s points is well taken and stands on its own. I don’t intend to rehash the letter. But her #4 relates closely to views I’ve shared for two-years-plus about the hiring spree and its impacts on city budgets, and it furthermore reminds me to look at the morality of the situation as well as the practical.

4. Since I was a council member in 2011, I know what it means to have to lay off employees to contain costs. At that time, the number of employees were reduced by 29 from 231 to 202. No positions were eliminated in police or fire. There would be no immediate savings due to the costs of separation, so savings were to be realized on a long-term basis. This did not happen because later councils approved adding new employees, including several higher paid management positions. Last year’s staff memo concerning the tax levy reported that the number of employees had then increased back to 224.

(My emphasis.)

The layoffs followed several years in which the city took a number of measures to try to regain control of its finances. City officials talked layoffs as early as the latter half of 2007, which prompted early retirements. They froze hiring. They forced expense cuts. They raised taxes and fees. They delayed purchases of big-ticket items like vehicles. If I remember correctly, they even froze pay for a year.

These actions were not enough, and an across-the-board pay cut was rejected, so layoffs became the last resort to achieve a reset of compensation to match the new revenue reality. But it needed time to work, and DeKalb only waited one year before starting the hiring spree.

We often focus on the tax burden in a town that sees little prosperity, and of course that is vitally important to consider. However, job loss involves pain, and the recent lack of restraint in hiring has all but rendered meaningless the sacrifice of city workers for what was supposed to be the greater good.

It’s shameful. But in my opinion, it’s an error that could still be reversed.

One argument in favor of hiking property taxes in City of DeKalb is that the city has reduced general operations (General Fund/GF) budgeted expenditures by $800,000 from last fiscal year to this one, which ostensibly shows that DeKalb has already cut expenditures to the bone.

Hogwash.

The fact is, DeKalb has a runaway spending problem, budgeting $2.3 million more for personnel this fiscal year than in FY2014.

Read through to see how this was done. Read the rest of this entry

**UPDATE 11/24** Via email, the city still maintains that the redaction “facially” applied to its FOIA response. However:

[A]fter further discussion with the Police Department, we believe that the Resident Officer Program’s mission is furthered by engaging with the public wherever possible, and where doing so does not endanger public or officer safety. Accordingly, the City is providing an un-redacted copy of the record at issue as per your request.

Whether or not I would have prevailed in the state’s review of the redaction, the reversal is a good reminder that most exceptions to FOIA — assuming they’re properly applied — are allowed but not commanded.
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The City of Elgin has a nationally recognized community policing endeavor called the Resident Officer Program of Elgin (ROPE). Here’s the webpage. Links from that webpage take you to a map of ROPE coverage, as well as to pages devoted to each of five ROPE officer locations that include the resident officers’ photos, contact information and introductory greetings.

Oak Park has a Resident Beat Officer Program (RBO). Here’s the webpage. There are eight patrol zones; click on zone headings for the beat officers’ names, photos and contact information.

City of DeKalb has a Resident Officer Program (ROP). Here’s the webpage. The description identifies an Officer Burke who lives on the 600 block of North Eleventh Street, and there is a written description of the ROP territory. There is no map, no address, no photo or contact information for this or any other officer.

Part of this is about how much DeKalb’s $50,000+ website sucks, but there’s more to it. On Friday, I received an email from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer that read, “As you may know, the City utilizes multiple police officers in its Resident Officer Program (ROP).”

No, I did not know that. How could I? The city’s website mentions exactly one resident officer, and there’s nothing in the Chronicle archives, either. Unlike those of other communities I looked up, there is virtually no current public information about this supposedly extensive public program.

Indeed, what I found were a couple articles published three years ago, when Officer Burke moved into a home that City of DeKalb purchased and renovated with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds (an arrangement the city refers to as “enhanced” ROP). Read the rest of this entry

In a recent post, CityEthics’ Robert Wechsler tackles the issue of public officials’ attacking citizens who question their ethics (my emphasis).

…[W]hen they engage in ethical misconduct, when they misuse their office or deal irresponsibly with their conflicts of interest, then they are acting not in their own right, but as government officials. And as government officials, they have an obligation not to attack those who make accusations against them. This is a misuse of office for one’s own benefit that, in most cases, is worse than the ethical misconduct they have been accused of. Government officials can deny that they engaged in this misconduct (if indeed they didn’t) and they have a right to defend themselves in an ethics proceeding, but that is all.

And, ahem, about the hired attack dogs:

And their agents have no more right than this. Officials should make this clear to their attorney (government attorneys should already understand their own fiduciary obligations) and publicly counter any inappropriate statement, as well as apologizing to anyone an attorney has attacked on their behalf.

DeKalb citizens who speak up are no strangers to bad treatment from this city regime as well as the one it replaced. Indeed, during the last council meeting, Alderman Noreiko used the time usually devoted to ward reports to attack citizens who had spoken during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Wechsler says that ethics commissions should intervene when public officials or their attorneys go on the attack. DeKalb, of course, doesn’t have one yet but this is another good reason why we should.

Related:

Illinois’ Model Ethics Ordinance & City of DeKalb

Public Participation Project: Your State’s Free Speech Protection

As the city ponders a property tax hike of 37% as well as water rate and fee “adjustments,” you may wonder how DeKalb has got itself mired in financial straits.

It’s actually nothing new. DeKalb’s budget issues are — and have been since at least 2005 — the result of snatching nearly every penny of revenue growth and putting them into more staff and higher salaries, to the detriment of other areas such as street maintenance.

Worse yet, DeKalb has to come up with, at minimum, a half-million new dollars in revenue each budget cycle just to stay abreast of annual personnel cost increases. It’s rendered the financial gurus unable to look ahead more than 12 months at a time because they continually need to chase the next rabbit for the proverbial hat.

Want proof? The stated Number One strategic priority of the City of DeKalb is “Infrastructure,” yet capital improvements are precisely the area that’s been starved in the current budget. That’s pretty messed up.

And a proposed 37% hike in property taxes bespeaks the latest shortage of bunnies for the hat trick. Read the rest of this entry