Community development director Ellen Divita said that people saying DeKalb is losing population and businesses are making her job harder. She told this to the mayor, aldermen, finance advisory committee, press and television audience watching cable channel 14 during a joint council-committee meeting on the FY2016 budget.
Former 2nd ward alderman Tom Teresinski had just mentioned it during his explanation of his position as a finance advisory committee member. His posit called for a freeze in hiring at the positions included in the FY2015 budget and the potential for each department head to look at making a 2-percent cut in their spending requests.
Teresinski pointed to stagnant revenue collections, losses of businesses like Barnes and Knoble, Big Lots and JC Penney’s, and indications that DeKalb may be losing population as his reasoning.
First ward alderman Dave Jacobson has been expressing similar concerns throughout the budget process. Jacobson reminded his peers on the council that it was the voters they were elected to represent and those who were not employed in public service were not doing as well and couldn’t afford the costs of government. He said for every 10-cents cut from the budget another 20-cents was added. and that direction was unsustainable and more and more businesses and people would be leaving DeKalb.
Monica O’Leary (7th ward) also said folks were moving out of town. She said 51-percent of the people living here were living near the poverty line and the city had to quit dumping their problems on them.
Bob Snow (4th ward) suggested spending on new hires be curtailed. He offered he may support hiring a new HR director based on arguments heard for the need. But he was less inclined to support hiring a new IT director at this time.
Mike Marquardt might support an HR director and he voiced opposition to any outsourcing in HR or IT. He said he didn’t see the need or want to see the city spend any more on studies to tell them whether or not they should hire the positions.
None of the alderman or the two advisory board members allowed to attend and speak said which of the three proposed tax increases they were willing to support to increase the stagnant revenue.
City Manager Anne Marie Gaura advised the council that they could not cut their way out of their budget problems.
When pressed by Jacobson to tell the council what cuts had been made Gaura said none came to mind.
The subject of TIF was brought up by Teresinski as he noted how little progress had been made in weaning administrative dependencies on the program. O’Leary and Baker lobbied to use TIF to repair the streets, Mayor Rey wants the TIF money for “transformational” projects like downtown center/communiversity plans and a new city hall. He doesn’t want to see TIF spent on maintenance. O’Leary thinks that the TIF money that’s gone to the Egyptian Theatre was used for maintenance and would rather have the $5.5 million earmarked for air conditioning for the theater be spent on streets and sidewalks.
Finance advisory chair Mike Peddle asked for his committee to meet and hash out the numbers before making a final recommendation. He warned that even if it was possible to hold the line on taxes to cover operational expenses it would not likely be the case if the fleet replacement and capital improves such as street repair are to be funded.
In a bizarre set of events finance advisory committee member Mike Verbic was asked to leave the meeting by Mayor Rey. According to Verbic, Rey told him that the city attorney Dean Frieders had advised him that since not enough advisory committee members showed up for the meeting to represent a quorum of that committee only two members could attend the meeting,
Verbic was told to leave the meeting, he could not even sit in the audience. The meeting notice was published in the newspaper of general circulation.
During his tenure on the District 428 Board of Education, serving a term as President, Verbic was trained in the Open Meetings Act. He’d never heard of such an interpretation. He has called the DeKalb County States Attorney and deciding his course of action.
Verbic said Mayor Rey told him he was just trying to be cautious. He can’t help but think the Mayor and senior staff just did not want to hear from him.
He said he has been asking a lot of questions on the budget and asking for answers to be backed up with records. He thinks the City may be headed in the wrong direction and that’s why people are moving out.
“It is breaking my heart to see so many multi-generational DeKalb families move to Sycamore,” Verbic explained. “Somehow we’ve got to get a handle on our finances and get a grip on reality.”
Verbic said that DeKalb has 220 full time equivalent employees (FTE) and when that number is divided into the total expenditure for employee compensation the average FTE is costing taxpayers $104,000.
“That’s not sustainable,” said Verbic.