I am loving the budget talks, mostly. They make me feel like the city is in much better hands than it used to be.

For example, in response to a question from a Financial Advisory Committee member last Saturday, the city manager confirmed: Revenues that for the previous year had been spent out of (off-budget) balance sheet accounts have all been returned to the budget.

We probably dodged a bullet, and by that I mean city administrators have reversed a corrupt trend that eventually could have rendered meaningless the annual DeKalb budget.

But we still have the same council.

Fifth Ward Alderman Ron Naylor and 3rd Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash contended the city has held the line on property taxes because the dollar amount the city collects has not changed much in previous years.

“When I look at it from year to year and see that I’m paying the same amount from year to year, that’s not an increase,” Lash said. “I’m paying the same amount.”

David Jacobson, 1st Ward alderman, contended “holding the line” could be seen as a tax increase considering the drop in property values.

Jacobson is right, but in my opinion he is not going far enough. We should figure out how much the conscientious underfunding of the pensions during the past decade has cost us.

You see, every dollar we short the pension funds is a dollar that can’t be invested. I don’t know about you, but my assets have performed very well the past few years — it’s a shame that our pension funds couldn’t have maximized their earnings in this market.

That’s not to say that underfunding is the only problem with the public pensions. It’s not. But a council truly serious about “holding the line” for our sake would be doing a bit less self-pleasuring and a lot more work toward a solution.

Related:

Painting a Picture of DeKalb’s Pensions

The special joint meeting between city council members and the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) on Saturday filled in a lot of blanks, even for — or maybe especially for — folks who have reviewed the FY2015 City of DeKalb budget including its excellent Transmittal Letter.

One of the changes proposed by city manager Anne Marie Gaura is to split off community development services from Public Works and place them into their own department. Community Development would then handle and/or oversee the following:

  • Planning & economic development
  • Building services such as code enforcement
  • Community Development Block Grant administration
  • One part of the argument is that Community Development functions are not Public Works core competencies. Splitting them off would allow PW to better concentrate on the budgetary and strategic priority of infrastructure.

    Also there is a track record to consider. As you are probably aware, the city has placed a building supervisor and two building inspectors on administrative leave as it debates their fates vs. the proposed reorganization. From the budgetary Transmittal Letter:

    In the past year, the City has seen a number of very public, very unfortunate business closures and even building collapses. In order to protect public safety, changes in the City’s operations are essential.

    On Saturday it came out (during the Workers Comp discussion, actually) that the police officer who was injured by falling through the floor of the old Wurlitzer building may remain permanently disabled. 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

    Meeting Comments & Questions

    – Aldermen Gallagher, Baker and Kammes should be ashamed of themselves for voting against receiving and filing the Hope Haven emergency shelter expansion proposal. Instead of saying “no,” maybe they could talk about what it would take to overcome their misgivings. But, that would be too much work, I guess, and most of all too much like right.

    – Did I miss a vote on the City of DeKalb’s appointment of a new financial advisor? Where did he come from, and why on earth is the Financial Advisory Committee being excluded from the debt restructuring discussion?

    I love being called “lunatic fringe” by a City Council member. I really do. Let them show the world how far this body has fallen in matters of decorum and discipline. Let them demonstrate how much they despise the people they are supposed to be representing. Folks ought to know exactly who’s responsible for running this city into the ground through ignorance, arrogance and denial.

    My lunacy at last night’s Council meeting comes after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

    In 2008, in the midst of a self-proclaimed fiscal crisis, City Council voted to allow the (former) Community Development Department to obtain a new SUV.

    This is symbolic, see? The Police and Fire departments have had to put off replacing vehicles and some equipment since then. The Police Department, in particular, is getting nickel-and-dimed on old patrol cars that should have been retired last year, and the year before, and the year before that. But Community Development got exactly what it wanted.

    And, as each new downtown brick paver is tamped into place, it must seem like a slap in the face. Read the rest of this entry

    money The proposed City of DeKalb FY 2011 budget has total expenditures going up by about $5 million over last year, mostly due to increased spending on the downtown TIF, health insurance and the airport.

    The budget as drafted will be balanced IF:

  • there are cuts of 25-30 staff (or, alternatively, everyone takes a 12% pay cut)

  • the State pays its full share of the income tax

  • prices of commodities such as gas and road salt don’t go up

  • revenue projections are in the ballpark

  • they can continue to keep the lid on overtime
  • Read the rest of this entry

    Committee of the Whole meeting agenda includes a discussion of establishing a line of credit (PDF p. 3).

    Staff contacted eight banks located in DeKalb about submitting their terms and rates for a $2.5M line of credit for the City. We have received four quotes, of which Castle Bank had the lowest fixed rate at 4.95%, while Fifth Third Bank had the lowest variable rate at 1.75% + .25% of any unused principal. This line of credit will be necessary to maintain City operations while revenues continue to decline.

    Um, no, I think rather the idea is to maintain cash flow for operations while the city is waiting for revenues to come in, not to make up for declining revenues. The wording here is a little troubling.

    Where’s that debt policy?! Read the rest of this entry

    MICA

    Tuesday night at the joint City Council–Financial Advisory Committee meeting, staff announced they had researched several providers of liability insurance and had made a decision on a favorite, an outfit called the Municipal Insurance Cooperative Agency (MICA). There were three red flags when the MICA plan was laid out. One was that we were not allowed to hear from any of the other contenders. A second was hearing that the risk pool is very small, 23 I think they said. The third is that the premium sounds too good to be true: a premium of $1 million per year offered to a city with, currently, a $790,000+ per year indemnity plus legal and administrative costs.

    Tuesday night I didn’t know what the red flags meant, exactly, but on Wednesday an insurance expert (who would like to remain anonymous, though I’d be glad to give credit) called me up and clued me in. After digesting the information I crafted an e-mail to the Council, which follows… Read the rest of this entry

    EPI Meeting #1 Live-Blogging

    –Holy cow. I wondered what “modified” accrual accounting is.* So, they use cash accounting for expenditures but accrual accounting for revenues? We need to talk about that some more.

    –Grandstanding. Nobody said there would be a vote to eliminate the post-employment health insurance! It is, however, clear that the city can no longer continue to pay 87% of the premium. Kay pointed out that the premium seems to be too high.

    –Mac (FAC) commenting on the fact that only 5 of 8 council members filled out the survey on EPI implementation priorities and we don’t know who did and who didn’t. No one from the Financial Advisory Committee was asked. Read the rest of this entry