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DeKalb city clerk spars with City Council; fiscal 2020 budget, tax levy, motor fuel tax increase OK'd

DeKALB – Although the City Council on Monday approved a balanced fiscal 2020 budget, not all were happy about it, including City Clerk Lynn Fazekas, who accused 7th Ward Alderman Tony Faivre of telling her to “sit down and shut up.”

“Just because I am the city clerk whom you all are trying to erase does not mean that I lose any of my rights as a citizen,” Fazekas said after she gave remarks as a private citizen during the public hearing for the budget.

It was a full meeting Monday, as the council unanimously approved a 2019 tax levy – projected to collect $6.7 million in property taxes from taxable property in the city with an estimated value of $592 million – that will lower the amount taxpayers pay by 4.2%. The council also approved a 4 cent increase in the local motor fuel tax to help pay for streets and fleets improvement (one cent will go to street replacement and three to infrastructure improvement). The $101.8 million fiscal 2020 budget has a $1.1 million spending cushion with $103 million expected in revenue, and does not recommend any staffing cuts. It was approved with a 7-0 vote on first reading and passed 6-1 on second reading, with 1st Ward Alderman Carolyn Morris opposed to waiving second reading.

Fazekas has for months clashed with city staff, including City Manager Bill Nicklas and council, over the nature of the clerk’s office.

“At the beginning of this fiscal year, the council made it very clear they wanted us to find a way to ‘right size’ the budget,” Nicklas said. “That meant some adjustments in personnel. In addition to our own audit, this finance crew has performed valiantly. I’m actually very proud of this group.”

Fazekas said she wanted the city clerk’s office to have its own page with line items in the budget, and wondered how the city’s finances could be kept in check if there is no comptroller or finance director.

After January management layoffs in the city, Assistant City Manager Ray Munch was given authority to oversee the finance department. Munch said any expense in the city has to go through multiple levels of approval, including an external annual auditing firm which scrutinizes spending regularly.

“If I’m going to be frank, do I have experience as a finance director? No, I’m not an accountant by trade,” Munch said. “But the one thing I will say is I consider myself probably to be one of the most ethical people you will find, and if there is a watchdog of the city’s finances, it is truly I.”

Fazekas also sparred with Faivre, who called into question Fazekas’ motivations.

“To continue trying to throw up a shadow all the time that we’re missing something, not covering something, it just is wearing out,” Faivre said. “We’ve been working well as a municipality. Trying to dig up some dirt is just getting a little old. We’ve asked previous managers as well as the current City Manager to reduce the head count. He’s done what we asked.”

This article has been edited to include a projected to collect $6.7 million in property taxes from taxable property in the city with an estimated value of $592 million. The Daily Chronicle regrets the error.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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