DeKalb joins ranks of ‘unfunded’ cities

By M. Robert Berg

DeKalb residents—do you know where your tax dollars go?

DeKalb taxpayers are shouldering a burden placed on the city by the federal government, and it is the reason DeKalb is joining local governments across the nation in a public awareness campaign.

This Wednesday has been designated by the DeKalb City Council as National Unfunded Mandates Day. DeKalb is joining with other municipalities across the country in using this day to educate the public about a disturbing practice by the federal government.

“The federal government passes legislation like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which all carry a cost,” DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow said. “They tell us we must do something to comply with federal law, but they don’t send money along with these acts to do it.”

Since the federal government doesn’t pay the cost for their legislation, local governments take this burden. “It’s basically a hidden tax,” Sparrow said. “We have to do these things, but we don’t get the money. It must come out of our local budget.”

Sparrow said the purpose of the legislation is usually good, but giving these mandates to cities without funding hurts local government.

“I’m not saying that this might not be good legislation, but it’s not fair to pass it without money to pay for it,” he said.

The cost of such mandates across the country is high. “It is in the billions,” Sparrow said.

The idea for such a day came from the U.S. Conference Of Mayors, of which Sparrow is a member. “We decided to have an unfunded mandates day at the annual conference of mayors in New York this June,” Sparrow said.

“At one o’clock this Wednesday, there will be press conferences all across the country, where mayors, city managers and various city and county officials will discuss the impact of these mandates and how much it is costing local governments,” he said.

City Manager Bill Nicklas will be holding a conference at that time, and will show figures on how the DeKalb budget is affected.

“He will show in dollars how much our budget was affected this year, and also projections of the cost to us over the next five years,” Sparrow said. “He will also show figures of the total cost across the country from cities that provided this information.”

Currently there is a bill in the House of Representatives and the Senate concerning unfunded mandates, Sparrow said.

A senator from Idaho and a representative from California, both former mayors, introduced the legislation in each house, and have now put their forces together to get the bills passed.

“As former mayors, they are aware of the costs these mandates impose on us,” Sparrow said.

As part of the resolution passed by the city, DeKalb will help in the effort to pass the bills. “The City of DeKalb will work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and other national organizations on passage of legislation that will require reimbursement of local governments for the costs of complying with federal mandates,” the resolution stated.