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DeKalb library loan repayment plan hits sour note

Tax abatement instead of check upsets 1st Ward alderman

DeKALB – Your checks aren’t in the mail, nor are they going to be.

That’s the upshot of DeKalb Public Library Executive Director Emily Faulkner’s nuanced explanation to the DeKalb City Council on Monday about how the library intends to repay a $992,550 loan.

In 2015, because of a state budget impasse, Faulkner said, the library board asked the city for an increase in the tax levy to secure a $4.6 million loan to finish building renovations. Borrowed money would be repaid once state money came through. Loan funds totaling $992,550 were collected from 2015 and 2016 property taxes.

Back then, there was discussion as to how to repay the loan. A former City Council member, Faulkner said, suggested the library repay taxpayers with a rebate check with information about donating rebates back to the library as a form of fundraising.

In March, the library received the final installment of an $11.6 million grant from the state. The library board voted to repay the $992,550, Faulkner said.

“That intention has not changed,” she said. “Unfortunately, as we gathered information to issue those checks, we ran everything by our lawyer, and when we presented it to legal counsel, there were questions raised about the legality of the library returning property tax money in a method other than an abatement because we don’t have the home rule authority to do that.”

Making a complicated story short, lawyers for both the city and the library said issuing individual checks would expose the library to levels of legal liability it couldn’t live with.

Instead, Faulkner said, the library is issuing an abatement of 2018 taxes collected in 2019 for the full $992,500. Paperwork will be filed this fall.

Taxpayers will see a reduction in property taxes next spring and fall of about $90 a household for the year. The library will send an explanatory letter.

“I realize that this is not the statement that everyone tonight probably wanted to hear about our update on the abatement process,” Faulkner said. “I apologize that our preferred method – favored by library, city and many taxpayers – of rebating the funds by a check is not a viable option.”

First Ward Alderman David Jacobson was not pleased, saying he and potentially “several hundred” other taxpayers would be skipped on rebates because they sold property since the loan was made.

For people in that situation, Jacobson said, the library “effectively took our money. We’re not going to see it returned to us. Clearly, it will go to the new owner of the property, but they didn’t make the loan. We did, especially when it was promised that we would all be made whole, and now there’s a sector of the community that won’t be made whole.

“As far as I’m concerned, the library owes me money.”

“This whole process has been like a movie from hell,” Mayor Jerry Smith said. However, he added, “I still contend that through the process, we all tried to do the right thing.”

Also Monday, by a 7-1 vote, the city named well-known blogger and city critic Lynn Fazekas the new city clerk. Third Ward Alderman Michael Marquardt opposed the appointment.

Fazekas assumes the controversial, part-time position at a salary of $8,000. Smith recommended her appointment after Susanna Hermann resigned in May. Fazekas will complete a four-year term that ends in May 2021.

Fazekas is administrator of the City Barbs blog, which often is critical of both the city and Northern Illinois University. In discussions of her candidacy, Smith said, Fazekas would cede administration of the blog to other contributors.

She will be sworn in at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in the City Council Chamber at the DeKalb Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St.

Fazekas said Monday evening that the city decided to decline news media questions until Tuesday’s swearing in ceremony.

Fazekas declared herself as a write-in candidate for city clerk in 2013.

Since 2009, according to her resume, Fazekas has been an independent contractor who develops content for commercial websites, blogs and social media. She's also worked in an on-call position the past 10 years for Edward Jones Investments, her last day being July 27, 2018. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from NIU.

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