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.

    Last Saturday on Facebook, I crafted a “status” asking where the City of DeKalb warming centers are. There was nothing on the city’s website or Facebook page about them, and the last council agenda seemed to have dispensed with the idea entirely.

    Warming Centers
    One of the current challenges faced with the moving of the Police Station is that the City Hall is no longer a 24/7 building. Because of that lack of 24/7 presence, the building can no longer be considered a 24 hour warming center. The building will continue to be a warming center during working hours. The City does not have another facility that is capable of performing this function on a 24 hour basis.

    I didn’t watch the meeting, but I understand from someone who did that council did not end up designating the new police station — or any building — as the 24-hour warming center.

    Anyway, about 3 p.m. yesterday the following was posted on DeKalb’s website and Facebook pages:

    Due to the extreme cold weather and the National Weather Service wind chill warning, the City of DeKalb will be opening a warming center if the need is there. If you’re in need of shelter due to the weather, please contact Police Dispatch at 815.748.8400

    If the need is there? How much more grudging can you get? Read the rest of this entry

    November 25 Council Agenda

    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.

    Highlights:

    Item 1: Another hit to the Public Safety Building Fund.

    I. Summary:
    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.

    II. Background:
    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

    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

    Police Station Contractors

    Here’s the response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed late last month for the list of contractors/subcontractors who are building our new police station.
    Police Station Contractors photo PoliceStationContractors_zps2920e099.jpg

    OK, Council, you said you’d bond out no more than $12 million but now staff is coming at you with a proposal for borrowing $14 million.

    It’s not that Peace Road and the fire stations don’t need attention. They do — especially Station 2. But is this really the way to do it? Bundling the police station funding with three other projects ’cause it’s “only” $2 mil more? Because there’d not be much time to examine the fine print on the new proposals.

    Let’s start with some fine print about asbestos in Station 2, a 55-year-old building. It is not mentioned in the agenda backup memo. How much of the $180,000 estimate is meant for asbestos removal/remediation? When do we get to find out?

    [Change of title, minor reworking completed about 9:40 a.m.]

    From the Daily Chronicle yesterday:

    DeKALB – Some members of the DeKalb City Council raised concerns Monday about the lack of a basement in the new DeKalb police station.

    The issue surfaced while a representative from PSA Dewberry, the architecture firm in charge of designing the $12 million building, as well as a construction manager and city officials, gave the council an update on the building’s design phase.

    “The lowest level was the most expensive real estate on the entire project,” [Public Works director T.J.] Moore said. “… We could get everything we absolutely needed to have by giving up something we wanted to have.”

    Apparently, there are costs associated with the necessity of moving a sewer line on the proposed police station property. Read the rest of this entry

    Now that work has begun on the proposed police station site on Lincoln Highway, Northern Illinois University students have become aware what the city intends to build there. Some don’t like it.

    The most immediate issue is a station sitting across from the Center for Black Studies and NIU Resources for Women, and in particular the potential for damage to race relations. There are also suspicions about the message inherent in its proximity to the NIU Police HQ, and wider worries about classroom disruptions and safety in a pedestrian-heavy area.

    If you watched the November 21 and November 28 city council meetings, you saw NIU students laying out the concerns about PD placement. You also then, unfortunately, have witnessed the city framing this as a matter of aesthetics — that if they build a pretty enough building, this will all go away.

    The students have started a petition to relocate the PD site away from the NIU campus: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/move-the-construction-site-away-from-the-niu-students/

    Traffic Studies

    A new police station on Route 38 is in the works, and a proposed expansion of the DeKalb Public Library would involve closing a portion of North Third Street.

    Clearly, each of these projects/proposals if built would impact traffic patterns at their respective locations.

    Mac McIntyre brought up the need for a traffic study at the police station site a few months ago so I’ve been doing some research into the requirements as time allows.

    Communications with the state Department of Transportation have convinced me that it would likely not be possible for the City of DeKalb to obtain a permit for the police station construction without a traffic study. Indeed, ComEd will have to obtain a permit to dig a hole for a pole before it begins utility work at the site.

    Additionally, I just found out that the city approved “administratively” a traffic study, now in progress, for the police station site.

    All’s well then, right? NO. My reading of the Municipal Code does not allow for an “administrative” decision on traffic studies. The procedure is for the director of Public Works to make a recommendation and for the city council to vote on the recommendation.

    I’ve put the applicable section of Chapter 23, Article 7 after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

    Last in Line

    As predicted in Sunday’s post, suddenly DEKALB’S FIRST RESPONDERS ARE #1 PRIORITY AND OMG WE MUST BUILD THE POLICE STATION RIGHT NOW, according to our city council.

    It offends me deeply, because the The NUMBER ONE PRIORITY statement is a BIG LIE. The people who really have made public safety the priority are the folks who have protested new SUVs, serial land acquisitions, and ReNew DeKalb’s insatiable appetite for baubles ever since the first of the budget troubles appeared three-plus years ago.

    If first responders were really the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY, Council would have insisted one or two of them be hired instead of a central purchasing person and an economic development person/company.

    If public safety were really the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY, Council would have found a way to squeeze a couple more cops out of the $400,000 freed up from the debt restructuring.

    They should knock it off already. The real story is probably some combination of a) the City being shamed by recent events, and b) the banker overlords requiring a new infusion of tax dollars now that the downtown project is winding down. Read the rest of this entry