Overtime comprised most of DeKalb PD’s excessive spending over budgeted amounts for FY2014, but another major culprit was spending in the “Commodities” category that came to roughly twice as much as the $260,000 budgeted.

Commodities were clearly under-budgeted in 7 of 10 accounts in that category and in a couple cases downright unrealistically. For example, actual costs for gas, oil and antifreeze for that department came in a bit over $117,000 for FY2013, yet PD budgeted only $95,000 for the same item the following year.

What’s going on? My guess is that the decision to return expenses from off-budget accounts back into the department’s budget accounts was an unexpected development.

Fortunately, spending for general government was lower than budgeted and this partially offset the excessive spending on public safety, leaving the city at a mere $347,773 over its General Fund budget for the year.

Resources:

City of DeKalb FY2015 Budget

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014

Auditor’s Letter to Management (see p. 6 of the PDF)

City of DeKalb’s Downloads Page (Look under the Finance heading for annual budgets and CAFRs)

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.

    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

    Do you ever go into a store during a weekday when your own kids are in school, and see similarly-aged kids and think, “I wonder why they’re not in school?”

    I’ve done so quite reflexively on occasion, and when that happens I say or do…nothing. Because it’s none of my business.

    This is between the parents/guardians and whatever school authorities apply to the situation.

    Now, city staff are pushing a truancy ordinance that would encourage police officers to enforce what in essence constitutes a curfew during weekdays that District 428 schools are in session, making truancy suddenly the business of the City of DeKalb.

    If a school district has a truancy problem and a municipality needs more revenue, it might seem like a good solution on the surface. However, several flaws emerged at last night’s council meeting, not the least of which was any lack of anticipation of how this would affect the kids who are privately schooled. 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

    DeKalb’s Hiring Spree

    The City of DeKalb got rid of 30+ employees at the beginning of FY2011 in order to balance its budget. There followed a year of quiet, but now we’re in the midst of a hiring spree.

    YoY Comparison of
    Full time Equivalent
    Employees (FTEs)
    FY2012FY2013FY2014+/- Over
    FY2012
    Administration17.52022.25*+4.75*
    Police
    80.0786.0787.57+7.5
    Fire
    545358+4
    Public Works434444+1

    Here is what it has done to personnel expenses.

    Selected
    Personnel
    Expenditures
    FY2012FY2013FY2014+/- Over
    FY2012
    Salaries12,614,05413,301,20714,163,263+1,549,209
    Health Ins3,320,7253,746,7403,810,939+490,214
    Pensions/FICA4,466,7794,199,3244,870,100+403,317

    And here’s what the FY2014 budget narrative (PDF p. 29) says about the increases:

    Total Personnel Services reflect an increase of 4.5% percent over FY2013. Most of this increase is attributable to a 15% percent increase in pension costs. Wages reflect increases based on collective bargaining agreements. Our insurance consultant informed us in March that the City’s health insurance premium will increase by 4.5% percent[.]

    The latest pension cost increase is distressing, but in terms of dollars it is neither the only source nor the primary source of rising personnel costs, which make up some 83% of the General Fund budget.

    So we’re looking at these expenditures going up $2.4 million over a two-year period. However, personnel expenses as a whole are expected to rise only about $1 million. In my opinion, this has given council and others a false sense of security that our revenues are naturally growing to cover the ongoing, rising expenses — so let’s try to tug the curtain away. Read the rest of this entry

    I was reading an article at DeKalb County Online about the City of DeKalb’s new towing policy. Comments on the story included a reference to this tidbit from Section 35.05, Orders for Towing and Impounding of Vehicles by City:

    f) Towing Policy: The Chief of Police is and shall be authorized to approve changes, amendments or modifications to the City’s official Towing Policy from time to time, without requiring approval of the City Council or amendment of this Ordinance, and shall maintain a current copy of the Towing Policy at the Police Department office, for public inspection.

    The above was taken from the online version of the DeKalb Municipal Code, where I read the rest of the policy while wondering what might already be out of date. Perhaps in the past month new violations were added to the list, or the $500 fine was changed to $1000. To be absolutely sure, I’d have to stop by the police station each day to see if things have changed, and in between visits a bit of uncertainty would ever remain.

    Only two council members voted against the ordinance, and they did so only because they disagreed with the provisions for establishing a towing company rotation. Everyone apparently thought it was fine for the council to cede its authority and responsibility to act as a check on executive power.

    The agendas for the council meetings tonight include a public hearing about setting the city’s property tax levy, which they must think will be controversial because you must wade through 112 pages of the PDF file to get to the related items (also see page 114).

    I was surprised to find out that the levy request is the same as last year, because it said in the newspaper that the rate was once again expected to go up significantly. Having to raise the rates repeatedly to keep the take the same is bad news. It reminds me of the utility tax problem. Some communities are beginning to recover, but not DeKalb, it seems.

    Here’s one area where we ARE bouncing back, though:

    dyerware.com


    Read the rest of this entry

    The agenda for tomorrow’s city council meetings is here. Now, it finally becomes apparent* that the $6 million they’ve got stockpiled in the TIF 2 fund is mostly going to go into the Municipal Building. Of course, the use of TIF money for this purpose will bring in all kinds of new private development and tax revenues…somehow…right?

    Also up for consideration at first reading are changes to the housing ordinances (see PDF pp. 39-40. As previously discussed, the main problem with the proposals (besides the costs) is the blurring of police functions with code enforcement functions. Such disregard for roles and boundaries will come to no good and I’m quite surprised the police department seems willing to risk its reputation with a mess like this.

    At any rate, the DeKalb Area Rental Association (DARA) has sent another letter to the administration about these ordinances. I’ll place it after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

    DeKalb’s Committee of the Whole agenda for Monday includes a zombie ordinance.

    Enclosed is an old draft of an ordinance prepared by Klein Thorpe, and Jenkins in which property maintenance items were at one time included in a former draft of the Chronic Nuisance ordinance.

    The Housing Task Force rejected the ordinance, and Council already gave direction in this matter. Nevertheless, two council members (henceforth to be thought of as “Biernacki’s poodles” due to my having drawn personal conclusions) requested it be brought back onto the agenda.

    The DeKalb Area Rental Association (DARA) has responded by pointing out that the agenda addition brings building code into proposals that were meant only to address residents’ behaviors.

    What’s wrong with that? Potentially plenty. It means the zombie provisions are not tweaks, but rather constitute a proposal for a MAJOR POLICY SHIFT from code enforcement being a primarily a “civilian” activity to becoming a police function.

    There are a lot of implications — not the least of which is the elimination of Public Works jobs — and they deserve their own discussions on the merits.

    Make the jump to read the memo on this agenda item. Read the rest of this entry