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Our view: DeKalb bails out downtown building owners

Jeffrey Metzger told the DeKalb City Council on Monday that if he had to cover even
30 percent of the cost to repair the private sewer service line to the building he owns, he would put it up for sale and leave town.

Any homeowner making the same case would not walk away with tens of thousands of dollars in government subsidy. But Metzger owns a building in downtown DeKalb, and the city has discretionary funds to draw on.

So council members agreed to spend up to $80,000 – most of it from water infrastructure funds – to fix sanitary sewer lines that serve Metzger’s business, Antique Treasures, 218 E. Lincoln Highway and Tapa La Luna, 226 E. Lincoln Highway.

This project will do little to improve the city water system. The sanitary sewer service lines for the buildings belong to and are the responsibility of the building owners.

The city doesn’t even own the sanitary sewer system. That’s the domain of the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District, which agreed to contribute up to $10,000 for the work.

It should be grateful for DeKalb’s generosity, too.

Had it not been for the lobbying of 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson, the city might have paid even more of the cost of the project, probably with tax increment financing funds.

But during more than an hour and a half of discussion, Jacobson pointed out that the percentage of the project that the council would pay was more than the guidelines set for tax increment financing projects, and that the council making an exception opened them to criticism that TIF funding is easily available to people with connections.

He pointed out that repairing the private sewer lines for a couple of buildings offered no broader benefit to the rest of the downtown area, and that part of owning property is being prepared to make necessary, unforeseen repairs.

DeKalb’s city government often is criticized for not being business friendly, and Mayor Jerry Smith said that in working toward a solution, he was trying to save a local business.

The city was not out of line in contributing something to the effort, but in picking up almost the entire bill, mostly using funds for water infrastructure to improve private and public sewer systems it does not own, it cut a special deal for a couple of property owners that most others never would receive.

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