***Update 8/12*** Added city manager Anne Marie Gaura and fixed clarity issues ~yinn]
As our city council prepares to discuss a revitalization plan proposal for the Annie Glidden North (AGN) section of DeKalb, we should be aware of the possibility of a “done deal” already worked out by NIU and private interests, promoted by city staff who are ready to sell it hard. As I’ve already explained:
Emails obtained from NIU via Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that in spring of 2014, then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas met at Campus Cinema with Chuck Hanlon, principal urban planner with Wills Burke Kelsey Associates, and arranged for Hanlon to create “a proposal for us that looks at the commercial strip along Hillcrest and Blackhawk, as well as a wider area in all directions to envision a different neighborhood.”
A hypothesis that the city has already secretly bought into a plan certainly fits with its top-down approach in the matter so far, and would help explain the exclusion of DeKalb Park District and other interested public bodies from discussions of the proposal.
Anyway, there are a lot more of these emails. Coming mostly from the account of then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas, they trace growing involvement of Nicklas and other public officials in private redevelopment and city rezoning issues from late 2012 through much of 2014.
This business involved “Neighborhood 3” of the three neighborhoods identified collectively as Annie Glidden North (AGN), so our purpose is to look not only at how city players have operated generally, but also at how events in the past might be driving today’s behavior.
Heads up: This post is longer than most, and I’ve placed an album on Facebook containing about two dozen of the emails in a timeline that contains even more details. It’s kind of a project to read all of it, is what I’m saying. Continue reading Where the city’s interest in Annie Glidden North comes from
Several of DeKalb’s city council members balked at making financial or other commitments to the STEAM center project until they have in hand a thorough analysis of its most important source of funding, the soon-to-be-retired Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.
Even the most worthy projects are subject to resource limitations, so a peek into the municipal wallet and thoughtful prioritization make good sense, and are probably the most important reasons to apply the brakes.
But there are other reasons, too. Here are three of them.
1. It’s not our job. It’s not automatically the duty of the city to pick up the slack on an NIU project, especially one that NIU itself has decided it can’t spare a dime for. Public safety and infrastructure are supposed to be the names of our games, but now the consultant and administrators are broaching consideration of involvement in site selection, governance, even operations. Boundaries, people.
2. The push is premature. This is a top-down pet project headed by city administrators who have clearly done most of the work, and last week’s special meeting was clearly about hard-selling our new electeds into supporting it. But there is no sign of any corresponding surge in public support. No organization has stepped up to pledge financial support for its construction and operation. It’s an entirely backwards process, which bodes ill for fundraising efforts. If STEAM gets approved at this point, we will all get stuck with the bill.
3. The TIF goal is unclear. As proposed, the project tells us little about ROI, which in a TIF district means raising EAV in the district. In fact, at least initially it would do the opposite, by taking another large property off the tax rolls.
I want to note that counil members David Jacobson and Michael Verbic have asked for financial analyses before (Verbic as a Financial Advisory Committee member), and they’ve been completely ignored in the past. The unified insistence on the TIF analysis is a welcome move, and I hope it means this council aims to reclaim its full authority in stewardship. Fingers crossed.
In my last post, I explored how Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars for FY2016 were budgeted versus actual spending. This time I hope to explain the discrepancies, at least partially.
TIF districts have their own budgets in their own funds that are separate from the city’s general operating fund called the General Fund. DeKalb currently has two active TIF districts/funds, TIF 1 (AKA Central Area TIF) and TIF 2.
To summarize the situation: For FY2016, $1 million was budgeted for street construction/reconstruction in TIF 1. However, in the budget narrative for the half-year budget called FY2016.5, staff reported that they “[f]unded street improvements in the amount of $600,000” in FY2016, and in the annual TIF report to the state for that fiscal year, it was revealed that less than $75,000 was actually spent for street improvements out of that fund. Continue reading This is why you didn’t even know DeKalb failed to spend streets allocations on streets
City of DeKalb budgeted $1 million for street reconstruction out of its FY2016 Central Area TIF District 1 budget, but actually spent less than $75,000 that year for all street work in the district, even though one official budget document indicates much more spending than that.
Here are the facts:
FY2016 Adopted TIF 1 Budget:
Street improvements/maintenance budgeted: 0
Street construction/reconstruction budgeted: $1,000,000 Continue reading Did They Lie about How They Spent TIF?
***Update 3/28: I’m hearing that some are having trouble with the links to the reports, so here’s an alternative way to get at them: 1. Go to the Comptroller’s Local Government Division page, and select the menu item that reads, “Upload TIF Reports.” 2. Scroll down to the bottom of the “Upload TIF” menu list and select “View Submitted TIF Reports.” It should be pretty straightforward from there.***
The TIF Joint Review Board will meet the morning of April 13. The annual TIF reports referred to in the agenda are here:
Central Area TIF Report for 2016
TIF District 2 Report for 2016
The Joint Review Committee usually meets in December or early January, so the annual meeting will be nearly four months late.
There are honest people of good faith who belong to the Barb City Action Committee. There really are.
However, it makes good sense to try to tease out the motives for any organized political action, especially one that launched itself out of nowhere and appears to have “shadow” members as well.
Recently I donned my thinking cap, closed my eyes, and envisioned a pack of jackals snarling at each other over the remnants of a carcass. This is the image that occurs whenever I think about TIF projects being pushed for approval by the DeKalb city council as the TIF districts approach expiration.
I think I’m onto something. Continue reading Barb City Action Committee & TIF
The Chronicle posted an article online last night about council’s fight over the proposed annual budget that begins January 1.
The article says that city staff presented a draft budget with 75% cuts in the social services allocations. This is different from the online version available to the public, which shows the line item (account 8307) as $160,000.
It’s a problem that these various drafts never get posted for the public so we can participate in a meaningful way. However, my main point here is that everyone is reduced to fighting over scraps to balance this budget, because the city manager refuses to give up any goodies for herself and her pets. The human services line item has been, at best for several years, at $150,000; that probably wouldn’t cover the compensation the new IT director will get. What’s budgeted for education and professional development (account 8376) is $249,000, an amount that’s more than doubled in two years. Meanwhile, reductions in raises are considered the “last resort.” They deny themselves nothing.
Staff say they are only reducing what’s not “core services.” Maintaining streets is a core service, but expenditures for streets are nil next year in your neighborhood unless you’re lucky enough to live in a TIF district.
As Ald. Jacobson put it:
They did what I expected them to do and proved that they are here to serve themselves, they are here to ensure that the raises are either expected or guaranteed and that they get paid more while the community continues to suffer.
That’s what bureaucrats do. They carve out their territories and feather their nests. Our only hope — always, not just now — is a council that understands its role as a check on their enormous appetites.
The budget is up for final approval December 12.
DeKalb County has placed online a variety of property tax information at DeKalbCounty.org. Among the reports are breakdowns of Equalized Assessment Value (EAV) by type of zoning, which include farm, residential, commercial, industrial, and railroad properties.
In City of DeKalb, the two top property tax-producing categories are residential and commercial. You can see below that residential and commercial losses in EAV have driven an overall steady decline since the Great Recession, until last year when commercial property saw a slight rebound (residential again lost a little value).
I also checked EAV in the tax increment financing (TIF) districts, because there is no more important sign of success for a TIF district than increased EAV.
TIF EAV has fallen worse than DeKalb’s overall, and (though not explicitly shown in the chart) has gone from a share of 15% of total city EAV to 11% during the time period we’re looking at. Considering that both TIFs are set to expire in the next couple years, this poor performance should prompt us to question seriously DeKalb’s judgment in selecting redevelopment projects.
Yes, “is.” Emails obtained by Michael and Misty Haji-Sheikh of Preserve Our Neighborhoods show that even though collaborators ultimately rejected formal incorporation of College Town Partners in May 2014, the intention remained to suck sweet, sweet tax dollars out of City of DeKalb via Tax Increment Financing (not even getting into NIU and use of the NIU Foundation, though we definitely should at some point). There is no reason to believe the schemes were dropped, especially now that the mastermind has wormed his way onto the NIU Board of Trustees.
Yes, “schemes.” How else to describe the dreams of a local banker (and longtime Sanitary District trustee, by the way) to transform a college-adjacent neighborhood and get DeKalb to pay for the project. He apparently is so persuasive that the other officials involved, including our mayor and city manager, went along with him for months though their status absolutely precluded participation as partners in a private entity intent on spending public money over which they exert control. It was a gargantuan conflict of interest; we should find ourselves shaken by the apparent ignorance or disregard of their duties to the public while they spent oodles of staff time and other resources to bring them to the brink of a formal agreement without council’s prior authorization.
Indeed, we’ve not heard a peep of public discourse that hasn’t been tied to citizens’ dogged pursuit of information.
Click here to read the email indicating that College Town Partners might have been buried, but not outright killed. If the Shodeen people ever get their hotel and apartments approved, look for CTP to dig up the undead baby, give it a costume change and present it as the inevitable and desirable retail counterpart to Shodeen’s residential development.
Related post: Tim Struthers Gave DeKalb’s Mayor Talking Points When the College Town Partners Story Broke
Monday’s city council Committee of the Whole (CoW) meeting includes this:
Consideration of a request by DeKalb School District #428 for TIF assistance in the amount of $2,000,000.
The assistance would go toward construction-related improvements to two schools that lie in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, Founders Elementary and Clinton Rosette Middle School.
Here’s the thing: District 428 already gets a substantial portion of TIF funding, in the form of a surplus that is declared and distributed each year. What’s more, the surplus scheme was specifically engineered to a) make sure the big property tax players signed on to the amended, extended Central Area TIF of 2008, and b) to replace just this sort of intergovernmental agreement between city and school district. Continue reading School District Trying to Double-Dip City TIF Dollars