Last night DeKalb’s Financial Advisory Committee began the work of figuring out how to pay for the claimed need of an additional $6.6 million per year for street repairs.

Unfortunately, they are still using the same faulty numbers — faulty in the ways I explained here.

If the FAC is working with bad numbers, so is the Chronicle. Here’s what they’re saying today:

This year, the city will use $1 million in TIF funds to pay for street repairs, City Engineer John Laskowski said. TIF districts allow the city to divert property tax money into a special account that is used to rehabilitate blighted areas. Another $400,000 to be spent on street repairs will come from the local gas tax. The city dedicated another $100,000 to pay for sidewalks and alleys.

The Central Area TIF district, which covers downtown DeKalb and Sycamore Road, will get $500,000 in street repairs this year. It expires in 2020. A second TIF district that covers a portion of the city between Lincoln Highway and Taylor Street is responsible for $500,000 and expires in 2018.

Again, as pointed out in the earlier post, the Chronicle is not distinguishing between maintenance/repairs and road construction/re-construction; TIF 2, for example, doesn’t even have the line item for the maintenance portion (and, until last year, the city rarely budgeted for street reconstruction in that fund and never to the tune of half a mil). Also, there’s no mention of the state motor fuel taxes going to roads (Fund 10), just the local taxes.

Now I’m going to show you what’s in the city budget for the current fiscal year (FY2015). The table comes from data found on pp. 144-155 of the PDF file.

Fund (No.)Line Item 8629:
Alleys
Line Item 8632:
Maint/Repair
Line Item 8633:
Reconstruction
Totals
Capital Projects (50)50,000300,0000350,000
Motor Fuel Tax Fund (10)00400,000400,000
TIF 1 (13)00500,000500,000
TIF 2 (14)00500,000500,000
Totals50,000300,0001,400,0001,750,000

There’s also approximately $40,000 tucked into the Public Works budget for streets and alleys.

At any rate, I don’t get it. If you’re talking strictly from a repair/maintenance standpoint there’s a mere $300,000 budgeted for it. If you’re including street reconstruction, you have to include the amount of the Motor Fuel Tax Fund as well.

I’ve got another table for you, coming up sometime later today.

This week’s number: $33 million

The city’s streets could need $33 million in repairs over the next five years, but a key funding source for the work will dry up by the end of the decade.

That has city leaders considering options including increasing the sales tax to generate more revenue.

Of the $1.5 million the city plans to spend on streets this year, $1 million comes from the city’s two tax increment financing districts. TIF districts allow the city to divert property tax money into a special account that is used to rehabilitate blighted areas.

However, one of the city’s TIF districts expires in 2018, while the other will expire in 2020, meaning the only source of funding left will be the local gas tax.

The above account is incorrect and incomplete. Let me count the ways. Read the rest of this entry

The key word must be “verified,” though nothing in the story actually is.

“Over the years, the amount of dog-walking has increased, so we’ve been getting more complaints and more problems,” said Terry Hannan, DeKalb County Forest Preserve superintendent.

Although Hannan said more people have been bitten in DeKalb County’s forest preserves during the past few years, Greg Maurice, director of health protection at the DeKalb County Health Department, said he hasn’t received many reports. Maurice supervises DeKalb County Animal Control, which documents and follows cases of dog bites.

The health department has written a couple of off-leash tickets to people at the county’s 17 forest preserves during the past few years, but no verified dog bites at county forest preserves have ever come into the health department’s office, Maurice said.

I’m confused. Are dogs biting, or not? Are reports of dog bites passed on to the health department, or not? Seems like a couple more questions might have cleared this up.

Related:
Illinois Animal Control Act

The Daily Chronicle notes that new DeKalb city manager Anne Marie Gaura has made some personnel changes. I am particularly gratified by this statement:

The moves all deal with personnel issues, a subject on which employers are generally limited on what they can say, but they could have announced they happened.

The Chronicle’s actual main point is that Gaura is shaking things up and it looks like the aim is to save money while improving service. This is something I’d love to embrace 100% but I keep getting hung up on the city’s failure to communicate these decisions until confronted.

By passing up opportunities to announce changes, DeKalb is squandering opportunities to rebuild trust that previous city leaders destroyed through a culture of dishonesty and secrecy.

Speaking of which, have you seen the video of Saturday’s town hall meeting yet? Distrust and suspicion were recurring themes.

Mayor Rey has un-ironically declared on his Facebook page, “I see a better, safer and more transparent DeKalb.”

Yet DeKalb is a town that:

– Told no one that its finance director had resigned until specifically asked about it more than a month later.

– Refused to announce the location of its warming center during the worst of the winter.

– Allowed citizens to find out the hard way last week that there was no one available to issue the permits that they needed.

The above events don’t reflect a better, safer or more transparent DeKalb. They are anti-public relations and furthermore enough removed from common sense as to have ventured a toe into the realm of the bizarre.

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.

    Now We’re Getting Somewhere

    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.

    The Daily Chronicle has come out against the proposed Sycamore Road TIF District, pointing to Mayor Rey’s recent comment that two developers are interested in one of the properties even with no incentives.

    So why bring tax increment financing into the equation? It certainly might give the city some more money it can spend on projects of its choosing, but it doesn’t appear necessary here.

    For one thing, I think maybe NIU has gotten the idea that the city is going to fix up one of its buildings. TIF in DeKalb has ALWAYS been about generating slush for pet projects.

    But tax increment financing is supposed to be used to encourage development in areas that need it, not just to generate revenue for City Hall to spend.

    The South Fourth Street corridor needs redevelopment, no question. But the South Fourth plan is a horrible plan. In fact, both of the TIF proposals are bad, as in ill-conceived and lazy. The TIF consultant should be fired and the Joint Review Board publicly shamed for its lack of proper oversight.

    I’m glad to hear that the city council is questioning these TIF proposals and I hope at some point this body also sees the need to review and reform how TIF plays out in DeKalb.

    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

    Did You Get Invited? Me Neither.

    Last week I decided to email our almost-daily newspapers to let them know I’ve been searching them each day for news of the DeKalb city manager interviews. You’ll remember that last summer the date for the interviews was set for November 1, but a lot could have happened since then.

    Then an article appeared in the weekend edition of the Daily Chronicle. (I don’t know if I can take credit for this or not.) It confirmed the date of the panel interviews but not much else.

    You see, in July when the interview schedule was set, the Community Committee interview panel and a candidates’ evening meet-and-greet were designated public meetings, so I’d expected to get details about those events in the article as well.

    I guess we second-class citizens who would like to attend the public events will need to make an extra effort to find out the where and when, unless we’re content to wait for the state-required public notices to come out Wednesday and scramble from there.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible city officials have decided instead to renege on the earlier plans for openness and are now keeping all panels and the meet-and-greet limited to the select few. 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