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
Turns out, City of DeKalb’s press release this week about hiring outside help has a backstory, and the Daily Chronicle has unearthed it..
New DeKalb City Manager Anne Marie Gaura wants the city to hire an outside financial expert after staff recently broke rules for making purchases in excess of $20,000.
First, the council approved the changes to city hall that included moving the finance office to the first floor and upgrading security. When city staff sought council approval, $14,000 in work had been completed, but the project was slated to cost $36,000. During their last meeting, aldermen approved a $22,864 expenditure for fitness equipment at the police station that had already been purchased using administrative tow funds.
“This just goes to the long history of the organization,” Gaura said. “It wasn’t anything intentional, but it indicated to me we need to improve our purchasing policies.”
Wow, dig it. The new city manager is saying it’s not OK to come to council for authorization to exceed the $20,000 spending authority after the fact. Think about what that might mean for fiscal discipline and accountability in DeKalb if the city manager is a stickler for the rules.
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
As in the last post, I’ve gathered year-over-year information using City of DeKalb’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) as reported to the Illinois Comptroller.
All governments have to do CAFRs and we ordinary citizens are supposed to be able to understand them. As a layperson I try to figure out why and how the numbers vary year to year, and over time this tactic teaches me. CAFRs also provide details on debt and other long-term liabilities.
Let’s start with an updated chart that will look familiar to you if you follow my budget and CAFR posts. Read the rest of this entry
Filed under: City Watch
| Tagged as: budget
The City of DeKalb did me a HUGE favor. When I first went to look for the FY2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) earlier this month, it hadn’t been uploaded to the city’s website yet (though it is there now). So, I turned to the Illinois Comptroller’s online collection of local government reports instead.
The report forms there (called AFRs) have barely changed since FY2004, which allowed me to work up, in no time at all, some year-over-year comparisons of the type I do so love to create for you. This set I call “A Documentary of the Biernacki Regime” because it encompasses the 10-year tenure of former city manager Mark Biernacki.
Thanks, CoD! Read the rest of this entry
Filed under: City Watch
| Tagged as: budget
The city has put up another meeting agenda for tomorrow that’s a revision of the original, so all you early birds will have to read the new one. However, keep the old one handy because they didn’t include the rest of the packet with the revision.
Item 1: Another hit to the Public Safety Building Fund.
With the Police Department having effected a move to the new Police Station on West Lincoln Highway, an unanticipated need has arisen for additional communications equipment to ensure officer and public safety within the Building.
The new police station was designed for a high degree of security, with extensive use of steel, concrete and concrete block. The qualities of those materials that make them strong and durable also make them resistant to radio wave transmission. In short, the design and construction of the building hampers the ability of police officers to utilize their two-way mobile radios when within the building, or to hear radio traffic and respond to public safety emergencies or request assistance when within the building.
The solution to this issue is to install a bi-directional antenna system within the building that will permit direct communications with officers. The cost of this system exceeds $20,000; however, it is an urgent public safety issue that requires an immediate response and the equipment required is from a sole-source provider that has been working on the balance of the radio communication system. For both of these reasons, staff requests that the Council waive competitive bidding and award a contract to Dixon Ottawa in an aggregate amount not to exceed $25,000.
How much did the first communications system cost? Can we get our money back? Could this problem have been anticipated? How many more errors will it take to annihilate the budget? Read the rest of this entry
The City of Springfield is expecting to approve a new contract with its firefighters’ union soon.
Golly, I wish we had that kind of news coverage. Remember the last-minute hoop we had to jump through to find what the 2011 contract with our firefighters was about?
The Springfield story reminded me that the longish closed sessions our council is holding lately have something to do with collective bargaining and not just horse-trading over the appointment of the new city manager. Sure enough, DeKalb’s agreement with International Association of Firefighters Local 1236 expires June 30, 2014.
I meant to look at the contract anyway because during the last council meeting, they were speaking in code while talking about the latest emergency services contract. The code was “7(g)” and turns out “7(g)” is shorthand for, “How much the city is going to pay emergency personnel to attend sporting events.”
But on to the quid pro quo. Read the rest of this entry
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