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:

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

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.


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

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

The data for the following charts come from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs).

In view of DeKalb staff’s continually stated desire to hire, I’ve begun with a look at the numbers of full-time equivalent employees. The city is using a figure of 220 city employees during its budget process instead of the most recently available CAFR number of 230. I’ve arbitrarily split the difference for the chart.*

No matter whose number you use for the past year, DeKalb’s been hiring at a brisk pace following the Great Recession crash-and-burn. However, some council and Financial Advisory Committee members would like to start putting the brakes on hiring. Let’s look at why. Read the rest of this entry

The governor’s proposal to make huge cuts in funding to state universities is the big news today, but municipalities are facing a similar threat.

At Monday’s council meeting, DeKalb’s finance director will present the mid-year budget report. The city appears to be pretty much on target for the current fiscal year, but administrators are concerned about possible future cuts to DeKalb’s share of the state income tax (see p. 26) if the governor gets the budget he wants.

Income tax started out on pace at the beginning of the year and has slowly fallen behind budgeted dollar expectations. Dollars are projected to come in slightly below budget at $4.15 million. Please note this revenue source is a part of the Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF) which is currently collected and disbursed by the State of Illinois based on a per capita basis. With a new Governor, there has been discussion about perhaps eliminated [sic] these funds or changing the distribution allocation.

The current budget proposal doesn’t eliminate the income tax LGDF, but if passed would halve it. The impact on a given municipality would depend on how much of its budget depends on income tax. In DeKalb’s case it makes up about 12.5% of the operating budget so its absence would definitely cause pain.

This is not the first time a governor has targeted income tax payments to municipalities, and I identified this vulnerability as early as 2010. Even if we dodge the bullet this year, we should start talking about how to reduce dependence on this revenue source for funding operations.

Related: “Budget Addresses Have Consequences” at the Capitol Fax.

A few days ago in another post I said this:

Fine/fee revenue can be highly variable, as we’ve seen with the disappearance of building permit revenues. TIF districts have time limits and both of ours expire at the end of the decade. These are appropriate sources for making capital improvements as you can. They are not meant to cover permanent, fixed costs yet that is exactly what is happening.

That post ran long, so I saved elaboration on the above point for another day. But now I’ve picked it back up with a vengeance. Read the rest of this entry

The City of DeKalb released its FY2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report last month, and as usual there’s plenty to digest. A large part of this report draws data from supplemental reports found in the back of the CAFR, some of which track the past 10 fiscal years and are therefore useful for understanding the lingering effects of the Great Recession on the local economy.

First up, I’ve prepared a chart of taxable sales. Retail sales taxes make up more than 40% of DeKalb’s operating budget — no other single revenue category comes close — so sales and the taxes they generate are important indicators of economic health.

The advantage of looking at the sales themselves instead of the tax revenues is that you don’t have to account for sales tax hikes, abatement deals and other “noise” in the data.

Of course there’s a lot of overlap between state and local sales, but showing them both underscores the trend, which is this: Taxable sales have stabilized since 2009, but they’ve more or less stabilized at 2005 levels.

And it’s not just retail sales that have stagnated. DeKalb’s share of the state income tax is climbing, but so far has only made it back to 2008 levels. Utility tax revenue totals for FY2014 were less than FY2012’s.

Water sales were down by 5.2%. If you think about the combo of utilities and water falling, it seems likely that it can’t all be about plugging leaks and conservation. DeKalb’s likely still losing population.

City government, however, is bucking that trend. Read the rest of this entry

DeKalb city staff have come up with a proposal to raise the city’s property tax levy by 10%. Daily Chronicle reports that the council gave initial approval on Monday.

Here’s how the city is presenting the recommendation:

City staff want to move away from the current practice of using the general fund to pay for pension obligations property tax revenues don’t cover. Finance Director Cathy Haley explained property taxes currently fully fund police and fire pension obligations and 97 percent of Social Security and Medicare costs. But only 26 percent of the city’s costs for the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund comes from property taxes, leaving the general fund to cover more than $720,000.

A 10 percent increase would bring in an additional $495,000, fully fund Social Security and phase in fully funding IMRF obligations through property taxes, Haley said.

Council will furthermore consider the recommended hike in a joint meeting with the Financial Advisory Committee tonight.

The most important thing to understand is that the discussion is not just about setting the levy for the upcoming tax year, but about committing to a significant policy change in how the city chooses to fund its pensions — possibly for years to come. Read the rest of this entry

The numbers are the amounts budgeted for streets combining two line items, Street Maintenance/Repairs (8632) and Street Construction/Reconstruction (8633). It does not include alleys or permanent street improvements (e.g., Taylor Street widening).

Keep in mind, what’s budgeted may not always reflect what’s spent, either.

Fiscal YearCapital
Motor FuelTIF 1TIF 2Totals


  • The Motor Fuel Tax Fund is taking a dive.

  • Overall funding of street repairs and reconstruction has dropped significantly.

  • TIF 2 has only just recently become a major funder of street reconstruction.

  • Now I’ll explain what has happened in three parts.

    Part 1: The Motor Fuel Tax Fund used to hold both the state and local (home rule) motor fuel taxes, but the city was having trouble keeping up with other infrastructure needs and began placing the local portion into the Capital Projects Fund, where it has to compete with other projects besides road-related ones. (DeKalb has also dedicated some local motor fuel tax funds to the Public Safety Building Fund.)

    Part 2: The city doesn’t dare budget more for streets from the Motor Fuel Tax Fund because it doesn’t know how much is in it. Here’s the explanation from the FY2015 budget narrative:

    This fund has some outstanding obligations due to outstanding bills from past construction projects in the amount of approximately $1.0 million dollars. The City will also receive $198,673.00 from the Illinois Jobs Now Capital Bill. The balance in this fund is attributed to the outstanding obligations of projects that have not been closed out. These outstanding obligations amount to an estimated $1,888,455.73. Once the Illinois Department of Transportation completes the audit of this fund a greater understanding of the actual amount available will be determined.

    Part 3: TIF 2 can be used to catch up/make up for/cover up for the lack of funding to streets now that the fund has accumulated a $7 million nest egg for remodeling the city hall building.

    Related posts:

    So DeKalb Has a Streets Problem — Is TIF or a Sales Tax Hike the Answer?

    FAC Using the Faulty Street Repair Numbers Too