City Council discusses laying off city employees to address budget imbalances

By Kierra Frazier

DeKALB — DeKalb city officials will be laid off, effective March 1, to make up for lost money in the General Funds budget.  

City Council discussed at Monday night’s meeting the proposal of high-level layoffs within the city due to the current $1.1 million fiscal imbalance in the General Funds budget.

The proposal, made by City Manager Bill Nicklas, said layoffs will include Public Works Director Tim Holdeman, Community Development Director Jo Ellen Charlton, Information Technology Director Marc Thorson and Assistant Finance Director Robert Miller. If approved, the proposal will be effective March 1.

The proposal comes after the realization that the city government was spending more money than they were bringing in. One of the main reasons of the budget shortage is due to the state’s disruption and reduction of public funding for education at NIU and Kishwaukee College which later affected payrolls and enrollment numbers, and in turn jobs, according to the Jan. 28 City Council agenda.

Nicklas said the cuts are solely due to budgetary concerns and not disciplinary separations.

“The laying off of people, particularly the very dedicated personnel we have, is not easy,” Nicklas said. “It’s tough on the families and the people involved.”

Seventh Ward Alderperson Anthony Faivre said it is truly a budgetary issue, and he wishes everyone the best going forward.

In addition to the layoffs, current and soon-to-be vacant positions within the city will not be filled. Former Finance Director Molly Talkington’s position will not be filled, as well as that of Economic Development Planner Jason Michnick, who has resigned to pursue another position, effective Feb. 1 and Deputy Fire Chief Jim Zarek who resigned, effective Feb. 15, according to the Jan. 28 City Council agenda.

First Ward Alderperson David Jacobson said the layoffs fly a flag, indicating things are difficult within the city. He said it shows that things are going to need to change on an organization-wide scale.

“It’s not a few management positions that can go away and can solve all of our budgetary issues,” Jacobson said. “Difficult decisions are going to need to be made, and this is the first of many.”

The city is prospected to save $1,105,258 as a result of the layoffs. Although, the General Funds savings will be closer to $892,332 in FY19 because the Water Fund will be paying $190,917 of the salaries of the layoffs and vacancies and the Airport Fund is paying $22,009.

Nicklas said current top managers are expected to step up in areas affected by the vacancies.

“The question arises: How do we continue to meet service demands?” Nicklas said. “Some top managers will have to assume more responsibility. Our assistant city manager has agreed to step up [and] will be taking on some responsibility in finance and IT and an overall supervisor in day-to-day operations.”

Nicklas also said he would continue to perform the role of chief budget officer and would play a much larger role in community and economic development. Nicklas has been working with Charlton and her staff to renew acquaintances with developers and business owners within the community.

Fourth Ward Alderperson Patrick Fagan said when looking at going into a situation where the future is so financially set, it’s not easy on everyone.

“I have the utmost trust in Nicklas being the face of DeKalb,” Fagan said. “I firmly believe if [Nicklas] felt he couldn’t do it by himself, then he wouldn’t do it.”

Fifth Ward Alderperson Kate Noreiko said the council directed Nicklas to address the serious fiscal issues, and moving forward due to the loss of members will be a challenge for Nicklas and the remaining city staff who will have to increase their efforts and job responsibility.

“There are only so many hours in a day,” Noreiko said. “I would hope the council will be realistic in what can and can’t be accomplished with this restructuring.”

At future council meetings, other cost-saving measures are expected to be proposed by the City Manager to continue to improve the budget.

Mayor Jerry Smith said in the short time Nicklas has been aboard, he’s made some strong moves.

“I think we’re going to continue to see some bold things ahead,” Smith said. “Not all of those will deal with cuts, some of those will be dealing with how we take what we have in this building and how we become more efficient and more effective.”