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Public safety, budget priorities top DeKalb City Council discussion

Molly Talkington (right), DeKalb finance director, outlines the city's proposed budget for fiscal 2018 during a special DeKalb City Council Committee of the Whole meeting Monday at the DeKalb Municipal Building.
Molly Talkington (right), DeKalb finance director, outlines the city's proposed budget for fiscal 2018 during a special DeKalb City Council Committee of the Whole meeting Monday at the DeKalb Municipal Building.

DeKALB – Although public safety and development were listed as the top priorities of the city of DeKalb’s fiscal 2018 budget, the common response during the first of two budget workshops was how to pay for added contributions to these services.

DeKalb Finance Director Molly Talkington began the Committee of the Whole workshop by outlining the budget proposal, which projected total revenues and other financing sources of $92,861,707 and projected total expenditures and other financing uses of $95,026,927.

Although the development side of the budget wasn’t discussed, she reacted positively to the city’s improved economic development.

“We’re making strides and efforts to spur development and it shows in the taxable property in the area,” Talkington said.

Sections of the budget that were touched included police and public works spending. Specifically, a three-year plan to increase the DeKalb Police Department’s staff by seven officers was considered.

Police Chief Gene Lowery said the department is on track to hit the highest call-for-service demands in a single year, which will be about 50,000.

“Our demands for service continue to rise at a somewhat alarming rate,” Lowery said.

Although there has been a lot of collaboration between police departments to deal with the recent spike in shots-fired incidents in the city, Lowery said that aid will not be around forever and the department is witnessing dramatic decreases in resources that can be relied on in the community.

To address these shortcomings, the department is looking to adopt a staffing plan to add seven police officers over a three-year period, three of which would be hired in 2018. The funding needed for these hires is over $587,000, including the General Fund balance reserve requirement.

First Ward Alderman David Jacobson voiced frustration that there was discussion last year that significant time and energy would be spent dealing with what the city’s top priorities should be and there has been no attempt to have those discussions.

“Staff is asking for five to seven staff increases. That’s not an option,” Jacobson said. “We need to have a policy discussion of what we need and what we can afford to spend.”

A consensus was therefore reached to have a the City Council and Finance Advisory Committee to have such discussions.

Before this, DeKalb Public Works Director Tim Holdeman discuss the 2018 street and fleet plan.

In a presentation made earlier this year, Holdeman said the city has invested about $300,000 a year on fleet vehicle repair and replacement over the past 10 years, which has created a backlog of about $4.3 million. The current budget calls for $369,000 to replace a dump truck, three aged police squad cars, a community development vehicle and one fire support vehicle.

“That’s not really changing our habits,” Holdeman said.

For street maintenance, the city has been investing about $860,000 a year on average when it would take around $13 million to improve streets to the level that residents desire. Holdeman proposed a number of funding mechanisms to help with the costs, such as local sales and gas tax increases, but none of these were included in the budget figures.

DeKalb resident Dwayne Brown said he often hears the expression “kick the can” for dedicated funding for streets and fleet, but pretty soon the city will come to the point where there won’t be any road to kick the can down.

Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the budget will be at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of the DeKalb Municipal Building at 200 S. Fourth St.

A joint budget workshop meeting between the City Council and the Finance Advisory Committee is tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 16 at the municipal building.

Street maintenance funding for fiscal 2018 amounts to $1.75 million. The amount of tax increment financing dollars being contributed to streets this year is only half of what was invested last year. City Manager Anne Marie Gaura said the city tried to free up TIF dollars to be used in future private development projects.

Jacobson said he was surprised to see staff talk about that kind of an investment when it was already assessed it would make very little positive effort, if any.

“What’s the best way to make sure we get value out of the expenditure?” Jacobson asked.

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