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DeKalb City Council considers 10.8 percent tax levy increase

DeKALB – The city’s finances are so dire that it might not be able to afford ammunition for the police department, but every employee is expected to get a raise in 2017, according to a new memo published Tuesday after a key financial vote by the DeKalb City Council.

The DeKalb City Council has set a ceiling for its estimated annual property tax levy at nearly $13 million, a 10.8 percent increase over last year’s levy, as budget talks begin in earnest for 2017.

The City Council voted, 5-3, Monday to adopt a resolution establishing an estimated annual property tax levy of $12,966,305 before tax abatements. Council members David Jacobson, Dave Baker and Anthony Faivre opposed the resolution.

“The reality of it is we don’t have enough money coming in to pay our obligations,” Jacobson said, “and rather than deal with that issue, we continue to spend, and this is now showing the largest increase since I’ve sat up here.”

The levy vote came at the end of a five-hour meeting Monday and marks the start of the budgeting process.

“We are at the beginning of tax levy season,” Finance Director Cathy Haley said Monday. “This is the very first step.”

The 10.8 percent increase is necessary to cover growing pension liabilities following policies previously approved by the City Council, Haley said.

“We really want to take that pension liability seriously,” she said. “We feel like that is the most important factor to this tax levy this year.”

The conversation will continue at 5:30 p.m. Thursday with a joint meeting of the City Council and the Finance Advisory Committee at City Hall, 200 S. Fourth St., DeKalb.

Staff at City Hall set an urgent tone for Thursday’s meeting with a memo that said the city already has cut its budget so much that further cuts would be a threat to public safety.

“As a practical example, the next level of budget cuts to the police department will be reducing the amount of ammunition that the department purchases to levels that may not meet minimum training requirements for officers that are expected to maintain public safety on the streets,” the memo from City Manager Anne Marie Gaura and Haley said. “Beyond that, cuts will result in direct reductions of staffing and fewer ‘boots on the ground.’ ”

The memo went on to note that $750,000 in budget cuts were identified by leaders at City Hall before the budget was brought to the council and FAC for consideration.

“The level of cuts already built into this budget is sustainable for one year,” it said. “Candidly, it is not realistic to expect that it can be maintained thereafter.”

The fiscal 2017 general fund budget prepared by staff calls for spending a total of $36,649,001, and with revenue of $37,134,063, leaving a surplus of $485,062.

The budget includes raises for all employees.

“Assumptions were made on all employee groups including nonbargaining unit employees for salary increases to ensure placeholder amounts will be adequate within the fiscal 2017 budget,” according to the memo, which did not say how much those “placeholder amounts” would be, but noted that all salary increases would need to be approved by the council.

The fiscal 2017 budget also includes $30,000 for “Priority Based Budgeting software and training.” The memo said the city will start priority-based budgeting in 2018.

The draft budget also calls for allocating almost $818,000 toward an estimated $17.3 million needed over the next five years to replace aging city vehicles, facilities and roads.

Following City Council policy, the budget would keep 25 percent of annual operating costs in reserve.

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