Belated Reports

From May:

School Board Meeting:
The school district excels at hiding information. You have to go to Tuesday night’s meeting (or watch it on BATV) to see what’s in the proposed budget for next year. The agenda for May 26 is extremely vague.

Of the few details hinted at in Item 6.4, “Preliminary 2015-16 Budget”, is “Medical increased by 11.5%, Dental by 3.23%”. Like much of the rest of the country, health insurance costs are going up. Unlike the rest of the private sector, the taxpayers will pay the cost for their increases.

In 2013-14 (no compensation reports are available yet for 2014-15), a common health insurance cost per teacher was $18,111.82, with dental an additional $1183.54.

This current year, 2014-15, the district started its own self-insured plan through Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Without the current compensation reports, I don’t know what that ended up costing us. But whatever it is, it will cost us much more next year.

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City Council– report from May 15 COW meeting:
Stormwater infrastructure is aging and they haven’t been saving money for replacement. They tax just enough for yearly maintenance, patching here and there, not enough to replace or reline the existing pipes in the coming decades. There are many sections of pipe over 90 yrs old.

It also seemed like the presenter’s definition of “useful life” may be unrealistic. It reminds me of the school district when they tried to justify buying former board president Ron Link’s building to renovate into a district maintenance shed, saying the former maintenance building was nearing the end of its life expectancy–as if it would self-destruct when it reached the magic “life expectancy” number. I’d rather see the city’s engineers evaluate the system and do repairs on an as-needed basis, waiting for signs of distress, but before failure. In any case, the neglect should stop.

The report last night tried to hide the fact (brought out by Alderman Marty Callahan) that the “government” stormwater fees would be paid for by taxpayers. Callahan argued the full cost should be made transparent. If you take the residential portion of the “government” slice of their pie graph and add it to the residential slice, homeowners would be paying about 48% of the additional $1 million/yr the Rain Tax is supposed to generate. It will shift 24% of the pie from residents to commercial and industrial taxpayers (if no businesses get tax credits). The presenter admitted (to another question by Alderman Callahan) that as businesses get credits, the burden will be shifted to the other pieces of the pie (including residents) through fee increases. With the headache and cost of starting up the system, calculating surface areas, altering billing, setting up an appeals system, credits, incentives, etc., can a Stormwater Utility be justified? They will be discussing this more in future meetings.

Our high property taxes are the school district’s fault. The City’s portion of our taxes is relatively small, while they provide invaluable services like police, fire, streets, sewers, etc. Creating a whole new taxing scheme in the form of a Stormwater Utility seems unnecessary and inefficient, adding another layer of bureaucracy.

My personal opinion is that they should raise taxes slightly to save for repairs. They’ve held their levy relatively flat for at least a couple of years, and the aldermen elected in 2013 have set a good direction (the Prairie State electricity debacle and River St. arch are not their fault). If they were to keep a separate fund for this purpose alone, not to be pilfered for other purposes, I wouldn’t argue. Maintaining infrastructure is a legitimate use of taxes (unlike the costly restaurant tabs of school district employees that our taxes pay for).

Upon further consideration, they’ve neglected the infrastructure so long, would they maybe consider neglecting it for a few more years, to give us a break until they can (hopefully) get out of the Prairie State electricity contract either through the Attorney General investigation or the class action lawsuit? Because your electricity rates just went up another 6.5% starting this month.

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