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

A new article from the Better Government Association explores growing pressures to consolidate public safety services.

…[M]unicipal budget shortfalls are forcing a growing segment of Northern Illinois suburbs to consider what was once unthinkable: Merging basic hometown public safety operations with neighboring or regional governments, such as the county sheriff’s departments.

Skittish residents, however, are concerned these reconstituted public safety departments will be more widespread and less responsive to their local safety and emergency needs. Nonetheless, the trend is likely to extend deep into other suburban areas and rural Illinois, say public finance and municipal experts.

I’ve occasionally engaged in casual conversations about formation of a metropolitan police agency or emergency services center belonging to DeKalb, Sycamore and perhaps one or two additional surrounding communities.

Although municipal revenue free falls have generally stopped since the recession ended, yearly revenue increases are now typically small and devoured instantly by increases in expenditures for insurance, commodities and contractual raises. Nobody knows when this trend of flatlined revenues will end. Meanwhile, raising taxes is politically difficult and, in many suffering communities, would be downright cruel. The alternatives are to watch service delivery capabilities erode or to find more economical ways to deliver services.

Careful consolidation could help us realize significant economies of scale by applying a metro or regional focus to eliminate duplicate administrative functions, equipment and software purchases and so on. But we’d have a much better chance of doing it right if we start planning during a relative period of calm. In other words, if we’re going to have the conversation, let’s do it now.

Manipulation Analysis

Is the City of DeKalb postponing action on its consultants’ recommendations for political or other selfish reasons?

When the financial consultants known as Executive Partners, Inc. (EPI) first came to town in 2009, the City of DeKalb made a big deal of them. DeKalb needed to show it was doing something about its financial mess, and at that point it seemed reasonable to blame the economy instead of city administrators.

Officials implemented some of the EPI recommendations and proudly showcased the accomplishments.

This time around is very different so far. I will describe the differences and share guesses about what motivates them. Read the rest of this entry

Power Shifts and Pushback

Let’s cut loose a couple of these agenda items for tonight’s DeKalb council meeting and try to paste them into the big picture.

It is odd that this fiscal year’s budget allows for the hiring of code inspectors into the police department’s Crime Free Housing Bureau instead of mingling them with the rest of the code enforcement people. It also has seemed wrong to members of the DeKalb Area Rental Association, who have been questioning this arrangement from its inception. They’ve finally gotten a couple of aldermen to bring up the question again so these assignments and allocations can be reconsidered.

The Chronicle does a good job with the story if you need something to get you up to speed. Of course the misplacement is major mission creep and strikes a blow against accountability in blurring boundaries between code enforcement and what Crime Free Housing is supposed to accomplish.

Then there’s the new truancy ordinance (see pp. 157-9 of the agenda PDF). Here’s what home-schoolers are reacting to most: Read the rest of this entry

City Pay Raises Approved

In reading the agenda for last night’s meeting, I noticed council members were getting set to “reconsider” Resolution 13-56, the same one they shot down last meeting that would have given the contracted attorney a 2% raise.

I would’ve liked to have read a summary of the contentious June 24 discussion, but alas! I couldn’t find the regular meeting minutes in the agenda packet, nor was approval of those minutes part of last night’s agenda. Wonder what’s going on in the clerk’s office that they’re running late on something so basic?

Anyway, after two weeks of the miracle of “reconsidering,” the lawyer and others will now enjoy 2% increases; and apparently anything less now constitutes abuse of city staff. Read the rest of this entry

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that DeKalb’s financial consultants made recommendations for medical cost containment deserving of their own post.

Here it is, finally. Turns out it’s not just the recommendations after all and it’s very long, so grab a cuppa something and make the jump when you’ve got time to hang out for awhile. Read the rest of this entry

DeKalb’s city council met again with DeKalb’s financial consultants, EPI/Crowe, to consider the latter’s latest report and recommendations.

The most important information to pass on to you is that the consultants told the council, at least twice AND in so many words, that the city will enter another financial crisis within five years if it doesn’t drastically change its operating model.

Yes, this concern has been a recurring topic at City Barbs since at least the time of the analysis of the Reduction in Force of 2010. Maybe they’ll listen now that they’ve paid someone to tell them these things. We’ll see.

Key to change, said the consultants, is strategy. Laying off people when you get into financial trouble is not strategic, it’s tactical. Strategic means planning for fulfilling needs 3-5 years out. Tactical is doing whatever it takes to get through the next year. One way is sustainable, the other a grubby little bandage giving temporary relief.

Bottom line, in my words alone: Getting rid of 30-plus employees is a desperate act borne of failure to recognize changing realities, and those responsible should not be allowed to pretend they are financial geniuses. Read the rest of this entry

Procurement

In its May 2009 report, Executive Partners, Inc. (EPI) recommended the City of DeKalb centralize its purchasing.

DeKalb never followed through. Now that the consultants have returned (as EPI/Crowe) they must repeat themselves.

Once again I offer a transcription, taken from the April 13 workshop between EPI/Crowe and City of DeKalb officials. And once again the speaker is my new BFF, Larry Kujovich of EPI/Crowe.

Here’s the setup. One of the council members is grumbling that the estimated yearly savings was determined by a benchmark instead of an actual invoice analysis.

I couldn’t consolidate by vendor what you spend, or by commodity. I was incapable of doing that because the system doesn’t allow me to do that right now. So for me to say, “Hey, if I go from Vendor A to Vendor B I’m gonna save “X” percent of this,” I couldn’t do that.

DeKalb’s expenditures are $12 million a year paid out to some 250 vendors and the benchmark for savings is 10%. Yet even though we could conceivably have saved something in the neighborhood of a million a year since the recommendation was first made, we couldn’t be bothered to set up the system for a proper analysis to find out. Read the rest of this entry

DeKalb’s expenses are outpacing revenues:

The city will spend at least $30 million from its general fund, a 5.4 percent increase from this fiscal year. The city’s general fund pays for city personnel, equipment, and contractual services.

The city is projecting $31.1 million in revenue for fiscal 2014, a 4.2 percent increase from this fiscal year. In fiscal 2014, the city is paying $750,000 more on police and fire pensions out of their general fund.

Today I want to look closely at the revenue increases.

In dollars, the 4.2% expected net increase equals $1.08 million, which will cover the pension contribution hikes plus a bit more. However, so little of it comes from natural growth that you won’t need to pull out the tarot cards to see a shaky future. Read the rest of this entry

There is going to be a special meeting tonight at 6 p.m. to talk over amendments to the draft budget. Then, during the regular meeting beginning 7 p.m. there will be a public hearing on the proposed budget.

Really?

Two of the proposed amendments are sizeable, and would set off lots of juggling. (PDF p. 7). There is also the possibility of creating deficits for the year that were not originally anticipated.

There is way too much being thrown into the air here to be absorbed in such a short amount of time.

I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I show respect for the process is by studying the plan before I comment on it publicly.

Do council members hold a similar respect for reasoned public input? If so, they will reschedule the hearing.