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DeKalb mayoral candidates talk business development, outsourcing

DeKALB – In the past five years, nine new businesses have been developed in downtown DeKalb.

Eighteen new businesses have been developed along Sycamore Road, along with nine along Lincoln Highway and five along Annie Glidden Road. During the same time, the city’s overall equalized assessed property value has dipped about 10 percent from $645 million to $582 million.

Meanwhile, the city increased its general fund savings from $21,869 in 2010 to a projected $5 million, or about 17 percent of annual expenses in 2013. Overall, city staff was reduced from 237 full-time equivalent positions in 2009 to 211 this year.

These were some of the data and accomplishments City Manager Mark Biernacki recently presented city leaders to give a broad perspective of city government over the past five years. The four candidates seeking to lead DeKalb for the next four years applauded those accomplishments – but they think more work is needed.

Both Mike Verbic, DeKalb school board member, and David Jacobson, First Ward alderman, voiced concerned about the number of empty storefronts in downtown DeKalb and elsewhere.

Verbic and Jacobson are facing former Re:New DeKalb executive director Jennifer Groce and Re:New DeKalb secretary John Rey in the April election. Mayor Kris Povlsen is not seeking re-election.

The progress report lists only one new business development along South Fourth Street – Dollar General. City officials and candidates have talked about the need for economic development in the area, including a new tax increment financing district. The city has two of the special property tax district, and leaders are exploring adding two more.

“We need to engage the public with these public projects like TIF,” Verbic said.

Jacobson said while the city has made progress, he is worried about the falling property tax revenues. With the city’s current tax increment financing districts both expiring by 2020, Jacobson said the city needs to find a way to re-develop without them.

Rey wants to improve the city’s ISO rating, which reflects the city’s fire protection capabilities and affects area insurance premiums. On a scale from zero to 10, with zero being the highest, DeKalb has a four.

“That could mean savings to homeowners in the form of fire insurance expenses,” Rey said, adding that this would have to be weighed against other priorities.

Biernacki’s report also noted that the city has saved $108,777 by outsourcing services, including economic development, inspections and engineering.

Verbic praised the work of City Attorney Dean Frieders of Frieders Law, LLC. Groce said she wants to explore other areas where the city can work with other governments, including the local school and park districts and even neighboring communities, to reduce duplication of services.

“What else can we do with local government to save residents money?” Groce said.

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