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Advisory:

Note: Strong Towns is not responsible for any mental duress resulting from repeated watching of this video. We are also not responsible for angry reactions from planners and engineers confronted with the illogic of their world view. If watching as part of a group, we recommend having a padded room or some type of physical restraint system available to keep those that develop a temporary feeling of hopelessness from doing damage to themselves or others.

As DeKalb tries to figure out how to come up with $6 million a year more to repair our neglected streets without chasing out more of our population, there are ways to put together better answers. For our city, it means a major shift away from its Edifice Complex (public spending on buildings that don’t contribute to the tax base) and development of a grownup’s appreciation for basic infrastructure.

The numbers are the amounts budgeted for streets combining two line items, Street Maintenance/Repairs (8632) and Street Construction/Reconstruction (8633). It does not include alleys or permanent street improvements (e.g., Taylor Street widening).

Keep in mind, what’s budgeted may not always reflect what’s spent, either.

Fiscal YearCapital
Projects
Motor FuelTIF 1TIF 2Totals
FY200775,000980,000417,60020,0001,492,600
FY2008115,0001,650,0003,390,00020,0005,175,000
FY200901,500,000350,000100,0001,950,000
FY201001,500,000450,000100,0002,050,000
FY2011360,0001,050,000450,000100,0001,960,000
FY2012378,0001,120,000950,000100,0002,548,000
FY2013300,0001,382,000530,00075,0002,287,000
FY2014150,000635,000500,000500,0001,785,000
FY2015300,000400,000500,000500,0001,700,000
Totals1,678,00010,217,0007,537,6001,515,00020,947,600

Observations:

  • The Motor Fuel Tax Fund is taking a dive.

  • Overall funding of street repairs and reconstruction has dropped significantly.

  • TIF 2 has only just recently become a major funder of street reconstruction.

  • Now I’ll explain what has happened in three parts.

    Part 1: The Motor Fuel Tax Fund used to hold both the state and local (home rule) motor fuel taxes, but the city was having trouble keeping up with other infrastructure needs and began placing the local portion into the Capital Projects Fund, where it has to compete with other projects besides road-related ones. (DeKalb has also dedicated some local motor fuel tax funds to the Public Safety Building Fund.)

    Part 2: The city doesn’t dare budget more for streets from the Motor Fuel Tax Fund because it doesn’t know how much is in it. Here’s the explanation from the FY2015 budget narrative:

    This fund has some outstanding obligations due to outstanding bills from past construction projects in the amount of approximately $1.0 million dollars. The City will also receive $198,673.00 from the Illinois Jobs Now Capital Bill. The balance in this fund is attributed to the outstanding obligations of projects that have not been closed out. These outstanding obligations amount to an estimated $1,888,455.73. Once the Illinois Department of Transportation completes the audit of this fund a greater understanding of the actual amount available will be determined.

    Part 3: TIF 2 can be used to catch up/make up for/cover up for the lack of funding to streets now that the fund has accumulated a $7 million nest egg for remodeling the city hall building.

    Related posts:

    So DeKalb Has a Streets Problem — Is TIF or a Sales Tax Hike the Answer?

    FAC Using the Faulty Street Repair Numbers Too

    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.

    In July 2013, the city council of DeKalb approved the DeKalb City Center plan, an update of the 2007 Downtown Revitalization Plan.

    One of the key components of the plan is:

    Leverage TIF to study the feasibility of and potentially promote the development of additional City Center traffic generators, such as a hotel/conference center, children’s museum, bowling alley, movie theater, or additional dining and entertainment options[.]

    Except that by the time the plan was approved, DeKalb had already begun leveraging TIF to study the feasibility of a downtown hotel and convention center.

    And had already begun negotiating with a developer.

    And was already talking about helping to close a “feasibility gap” with public funds.

    Why haven’t you heard about this? It’s because of the city manager’s spending authority. The city manager can authorize up to $20,000 in spending without going to the city council for approval. In the case of the hotel/convention center, the first study — dated January 2013 — cost $12,000. A supplement was completed this year for $7,500.

    How convenient.

    You can look at some of the documents, obtained through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, at the City Barbs Blog Facebook Group.

    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

    Let’s start with a summary of events.

    — The group now known as Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) was formed last spring in response to concerns that residents were not being included in DeKalb-NIU redevelopment plans that would directly affect them.

    — Misty Haji-Sheikh of PON received unsigned documents from an anonymous sender regarding a corporation formed for the purpose of redeveloping the John Street neighborhood.

    — The corporation, College Town Partners, was of public interest because NIU and City of DeKalb were named as partners in documents related to its purpose and operations.

    — Haji-Sheikh asked NIU and City of DeKalb for documents related to College Town Partners under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). DeKalb denied her some of the information under an exemption to FOIA for preliminary drafts/proposals.

    — Haji-Sheikh requested that the Attorney General’s Office of Public Access review DeKalb’s denial of information to ensure the city has used the FOIA exemption properly. The AG accepted this Request for Review.

    — City of DeKalb responded to the AG’s request to provide the legal basis for using the FOIA exemption(s) but in an unusual move the city asked for — and received — blanket confidentiality of its response.

    — Haji-Sheikh is allowed under the review process to respond to the city’s response and she did so even though she hasn’t been allowed to read it.

    Michael Haji-Sheikh has provided Misty’s response to the AG via Twitter. Read the rest of this entry

    This is an item from the May 27 council meeting agenda that I’ve been meaning to address.

    It’s about a water main project on South 4th Street.

    This project would have abandoned a 6” water main on the west side of Route 23 (South Fourth Street) from Lacas Street south to approximately 110 feet south of Charter Street. There are approximately twenty services that would have been be disconnected from the 6” main on the west side of Route 23 and be reconnected to the 8” main on the east side.

    The project was already coordinated with the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is planning to resurface Route 23. It does make sense to do the underground work first if possible.

    However, at the May 27 council meeting the one proposal sent in was rejected. Read the rest of this entry

    I’ve read the College Town Partners documents that were leaked to the Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) group. (Want copies? Send an email to preserveourneighborhoods@gmail.com.)

    The agreements, which were never signed, lay out a corporate partnership between City of DeKalb, NIU, a local developer and two banks.

    They strike me as kind of nuts, actually, being fraught with conflicts of interest that government bodies could never ignore. Whoever developed them — at this point I’m envisioning somebody’s partially demented but clout-heavy uncle who must be humored — possesses no grasp of the “public” part of public projects.

    For example, the agreements place the DeKalb city manager in the position of manager of a self-interested company operating in the same community. They also attempt to make rules for the participation of the government bodies (e.g.: confidentiality, non-compete clause, predetermined developer) but that’s the flip of what’s supposed to happen.

    The plans as written didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in sunlight. Still, somebody thought enough of them to stuff 60 pages into an envelope to mail to the PON folks. Why? I think it must be a warning that an awful lot of planning has been going on behind closed doors, and that some of it may not represent the public interest.

    Speaking of which, let’s look at the recent naughtiness of your mayor that ties in here. Read the rest of this entry

    Can DeKalb Really Help Fix NIU?

    The Daily Chronicle’s editorial board scolded a group of residents this week for being total NIMBYs hating on good and necessary change.

    [D]espite all the benefits that our communities draw from having the university here, there is resistance to ideas that could change the nearby neighborhoods, particularly the Ellwood historic and Hillcrest neighborhoods, where residents have formed a community group, Preserve Our Neighborhoods, in response.

    People by nature don’t like change. It’s natural for them to be skeptical. But fighting to stop any change will not be good for anyone, really.

    My observations suggest this is a mistaken assumption. Group members aren’t resisting change per se but rather are targeting the utter gall of NIU’s handing down a plan for their neighborhoods without their input.

    Now that Preserve Our Neighborhoods has succeeded in forcing something of a pause, maybe we could productively use it to think through the notion that widening sidewalks, installing tram service and building more housing are really the best uses of resources in combating the problem of plummeting enrollment. Read the rest of this entry

    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.