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DeKalb finance committee discuss fiscal 2019 police, fire cuts; tax levy

DeKalb Police Chief Eugene Lowery and Fire Chief Eric Hicks discuss budget cuts at Wednesday's  Financial Advisory Committee in DeKalb.
DeKalb Police Chief Eugene Lowery and Fire Chief Eric Hicks discuss budget cuts at Wednesday's Financial Advisory Committee in DeKalb.

Note to readers: This story has been changed to reflect that the city asked department heads to reduce their budget proportionally in light of an expected $1.6 million deficit, and to clarify that the multiplier applies to DeKalb Township.

DeKalb’s Financial Advisory Committee met Wednesday night to discuss the draft of the city’s fiscal 2019 budget as well as the 2018 proposed tax levy, among other topics.

The committee expressed concerns that the City Council did not fully understand its recommendations after Monday’s discussion on the tax levy proposals.

“I’m a little frustrated that they continue to ignore decisions by the committee,” Mike Peddle, committee chairman, said.

This was after the council’s choice Monday to disregard the committee-recommended course of action and instead pursue alternate options which would not effect the tax rate.

Notably, homeowners’ bills still could change because of the township multiplier, said Molly Talkington, interim city manager and city finance director, in response to a resident’s comment regarding a rise in equalized assessed value of properties in the city. Each year, assessors use market studies to determine the best estimate of 33.3 percent of market value for properties in respective townships. Since DeKalb Township was under-assessed, a multiplier was set to 4 percent to help raise the value.

This means that if your home was valued at $150,000 last year, it will be valued at a
4 percent increase. Therefore, even if the city votes to maintain the current tax rate, homeowners still could see an increase in their 2019 bill.

Fiscal 2019 budget cuts also proved contentious, as the committee went through each line item of the proposal to vote on recommendations for the City Council in budget talks. The committee does not have any decision-making power and can only put forward suggestions for courses of action ultimately put up for policy by the council.

DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks and Police Chief Gene Lowery were in attendance to address questions about potential departmental staffing cuts. The fire department could see the elimination of the deputy fire chief of operations, a position currently held by Deputy Chief Jeff McMaster, as well as losing one firefighter.

“We were given a task to cut certain dollar amounts, but we don’t have another option if you’re going to take that much money,” Hicks said.
The committee approved a recommendation to cut both fire positions, which could be eliminated through attrition, meaning that the positions could be eliminated when they are vacated.

The police department, meanwhile, stands to lose two patrol officers and one commander. Eliminating those positions was approved by the committee, with an over-hire stipulation, meaning the department still could hire new staff before any positions are vacated to ensure a smoother transition of service.

“As chief, I don’t think it’s wise to make any cuts,” Lowery said. “But we were tasked with lowering our budget proportionally based on the size of the budget and $1.6 million deficit.”

Personnel costs for both departments are more than
90 percent of their respective budgets.

The City Council meets Tuesday for a budget workshop, during which Talkington will provide the committee recommendations and the council will conduct its own discussion. The committee meets again Oct. 24 at the police station. A joint meeting of the City Council and committee to continue budget talks is scheduled for Nov. 5.

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