DeKALB – A contentious public hearing on the city’s 2017 budget led to heated exchanges between City Council members and staff Monday, after city staff presented a budget proposal calling for steep cuts in the amount the city contributes to social service and other agencies.
The budget proposal, presented by Finance Director Cathy Haley, called for reducing by tens of thousands of dollars the annual contributions the city makes to agencies including the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, DeKalb County Economic Development Corp., and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.
It also called for slashing $125,000 from the amount the city contributes to social service agencies such as Safe Passage, Family Service Agency, Youth Service Bureau and others – a 75 percent reduction. During more than an hour and 20 minutes of public comment, representatives of several of the potentially affected agencies, including David Miller, executive director at Family Service Agency of DeKalb County, said the proposed cuts would be a grave mistake.
“That sends a clear message out to the community that those who are most in need of the services really are not important, our senior citizens, our youth who are facing challenges, victims of domestic violence, working families who are trying to stay afloat, those who are facing depression, other mental health issues, struggling with substance abuse, those who are homeless,” Miller said. “… Instead of caring about these citizens, the proposal tonight would increase the city’s burden in the long run by adding to the police and the ambulance as they’re reacting to increased problems.”
Council members later gave preliminary approval to a $36.3 million budget that restored $236,500 in funding for outside programs. Council members also asked staff members to present other options for budget cuts that would offset the extra spending.
The budget – possibly with more spending reductions – could receive final approval at the council’s Dec. 12 meeting.
Aside from payments to its police and fire pension fund, the city does not use property tax revenue to pay for operations, relying instead on a variety of other taxes and fees.
Aldermen are intent on maintaining a 25 percent reserve fund balance in order to stave off another credit rating downgrade. Without other spending cuts, the city’s reserve fund would be $8.8 million – about 24.2 percent of general fund expenses.
Some want reductions in staffing costs, which were conspicuously untouched in the budget. Leading that charge was Ward 1 Alderman David Jacobson, who railed at the staff for manufacturing outrage among the public by putting social service agencies on the chopping block without any consideration of staffing or pay cuts.
“To come up with those cuts right now, you should be ashamed of yourselves, honestly, because there was no way we were going to vote for those things and you knew that,” Jacobson said.
“… 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.”
Jacobson proposed a measure that would have required staff cuts be substituted for the $236,500 in outside spending; the proposal was defeated when Mayor John Rey voted “no” to create a 4-4 tie.
Rey disputed Jacobson’s claim that proposing slashing social service funding was a calculated move. He said at a meeting earlier in November, council members had instructed staff to identify non-core city spending.
“I don’t think staff was imagining those cuts or throwing up a smokescreen with those cuts,” Rey said. “There was serious consideration given to what they’re hearing from the majority of this City Council.”
City Manager Anne Marie Gaura said she viewed staff reductions as a last resort. She pointed out that the city’s department heads had cut more than $700,000 from their initial spending plan before being asked to make another $1 million in budget cuts.
She also pointed out that the city of DeKalb was paying far more than some other towns for to local organizations. The city pays the same amount as DeKalb County – and less than Sycamore – to the DCEDC, and also pays much more than Sycamore to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Gaura said.
Ward 3 Alderman Michael Marquardt, who voted against requiring staff cuts, joined Jacobson, Dave Baker, Anthony Faivre and Bill Finucane in voting to ask staff members to give them options for possible spending cuts to compensate for restoring the outside spending.
Rey, along with council members Bob Snow and Kate Noreiko, voted no.