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Public safety cuts glaring in proposed DeKalb budget

September 20, 2018

DeKALB – Substantial cuts to the police and fire departments are among a bevy of reductions being considered, to plug a projected budget shortfall and keep the deficit from snowballing.

The city faces a projected shortfall of more than $450,000 in fiscal 2018, and if nothing is changed, that would grow to a $1.2 million shortfall in the fiscal 2019 budget, according to city documents.

Thus, by and large, two general courses of action are being considered: staff cuts and increases in taxes, effective June 1, 2019.

“Now we need to get down to brass tax,” Mayor Jerry Smith said Wednesday. “It’s going to come down to what the council feels about how to increase revenues – through taxation, which this council has been very much against, or reduction of service and personnel.”

If all the adjustments to the fire department are included, the city will save $250,000 a year. The measures include the elimination of the deputy chief of operations, who makes more than $175,000, and a firefighter, who makes nearly $100,000.

“I don’t think they’re overstaffed,” Smith said. “I think staffing with a fire department is almost as important as with police. All the proposed cuts tie into administrative personnel, not boots on the street.”

Cuts to the police force, if approved in full, will save about $100,000. Proposed moves include eliminating two officers who are not working the streets in order to save more than $175,000, as well as eliminating a police commander, through attrition, in combination with adding an officer.

“If there’s one department I think this council is going to be very hesitant to make any cuts is with police,” Smith said. “Public safety is a key focus of this council, and along with economic development, was one of the keys of my campaign for mayor.”

With both departments, it’s being proposed to authorize over-hire funding to offset the cuts to limit the effects on services.

The city’s interim city manager, Molly Talkington, who was hired about a year ago as finance director and was appointed to her current temporary role in May, said the cuts would reduce departments to 2013 staffing levels.

“Every reduction I put on there is a reduction in service,” Talkington said. “They could keep the service level the same, but then we need to find something else they’re comfortable reducing.”

Also being considered is a 0.25 percent increase to the home rule sales tax, the largest source of revenue for the general fund, which would bring in an additional $3 million a year. The current rate is 1.75 percent, as it is in Sycamore.

Other tax increases being considered include the hotel/motel tax, which would bring in an additional $84,000, an electric utility tax increase which would generate more than $87,000, and an increase to the gas utility tax, which would add more than $45,000.

The general fund currently sits at about $9 million and at 23.8 percent of annual expenditures – more than a percent below the city’s policy of keeping the fund at 25 percent of annual expenditures. The budget-balancing moves being considered would bring the fiscal 2019 general fund up to $9.4 million, which is 25 percent of annual expenditures.

Talkington said there’s always the option of dipping into reserves, rather than making cuts.

“We could use our fund balance, which deviates from the funding policy,” she said.

Visit cityofdekalb.com to see agendas, including the agenda for Tuesday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting. In that agenda, you’ll find line-by-line the actions being considered to shore up the budget.

The Committee of the Whole is expected to revisit the budget during an October meeting, and Smith said the council is in much better shape, time-wise, than it was a year ago.

“We’re absolutely ahead of schedule, and last year we tried to do too much too late,” he said.

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