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.

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

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

What timing I have! I posted city expenditures for Egyptian Theatre projects on Tuesday and now there’s a memo dated November 6 in the agenda packet for next Monday’s meeting about this (see page marked E-3, which is p. 13 of the PDF file, my emphasis added):

In March of 2013, the City Council agreed to amend the Egyptian’s FY12-13 agreement to add FY13 TIF funding in the amount of $125,000 and shift remaining bond monies to be used for the installation of a sprinkler system instead of air conditioning. Any funds leftover after the sprinkler system installation and the associated plaster repairs were completed were to be spent on a list of other prioritized expenses.

Since that time, the sprinkler system install, plaster repairs, and a significant portion of the items on the prioritized list have been done. However, due to the uncertain nature of renovating an existing historic structure, P.E.T. wanted to make sure that they had solid costs on the sprinkler system and plaster repairs prior to moving forward with the items on the prioritized list. While many of the items on the prioritized list have been checked off, they were not able to spend all of the FY13 TIF monies by the agreement deadline of October 1. The Egyptian Theatre is requesting that the remaining $90,809.82 in FY13 TIF funds be rolled into their FY14 agreement.

The Egyptian hit a deadline for FY2013 spending in October so I’m not implying anything by my remark about the timing; this item has to come up now anyway. Still, they seem to be taking lots of care to line up the ducks. Read the rest of this entry

Last month I was going through recent City of DeKalb check registers for something or other and came across a payment out of DeKalb’s Central Area Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Fund for $189 with the description “EGYPTN THTR UNCLG BSMNT DRN.” I also found descriptions for “EGYPTN THTR STG DOORS LCKS” and “LGHT FXTR WMNS BTHRM.”

These items sounded more like regular maintenance than the private property rehab/development that TIF is supposed to support, but I figure the city probably has plausible excuses for them, perhaps repairs for damage done by clumsy plasterers or painters?

Two of the October entries are for engineering services with descriptions of “EGYPTN THTR ALLEY RCNSTRCTN.” This must be TIF-speak for “taxpayers are footing the bill for heated sidewalks.” Read the rest of this entry

Click on the image for a larger version.

TIF Funds Spent on Airport photo 2013TIFmoneyforairport_zps90cec782.jpg

I can’t believe hikes in taxes are even up for discussion.

Consultants estimated one option for renovating City Hall – including upgrades to the heating and cooling system, plumbing and fire protection system, among other things – would cost $3.7 million. City Council members also are exploring spending $7.5 million on renovations, with $5.5 million of that coming from tax increment financing dollars and $2 million coming from increases to gasoline taxes, water bills or property taxes.

From the article it sounds like Aldermen Jacobson, Snow and Baker do not support a plan to raise our taxes for this. Good. It’s bad enough the city will likely have to use TIF money to upgrade the HVAC instead of addressing our rotting neighborhoods, but raising taxes to put council chambers on the first floor would be absolutely obscene in view of the bills coming due for unpaid pension liabilities, public building construction and whopping raises for the rookie staff.

As an aside, I returned to my old home town in Indiana last weekend — you know, the one with real TIF oversight and an Ethics Commission, among other things. We paid 7% tax on our lunch bill, and when we went downtown near 7 p.m. on Friday we found the sidewalks filled with students and families and all the downtown shops lit and open.