Taxes spent on unfunded mandates

By Dan Jacobson

DeKalb residents are spending more than $800,000 of their tax dollars on unfunded mandates set by the federal government in fiscal year 1993.

City Manager Bill Nicklas and Director of Public Works Ron Naylor held a press conference on Wednesday to draw attention to the amount of money spent on unfunded mandates each year.

Nicklas said close to seven percent of locally raised revenue went towards funding federal mandates and regulations in FY 1993. Some of the costs were: Clean Water Act $7,700; Clean Air Act $5,000; Solid Waste Disposal Act $61,200; Safe Drinking Water Act $195,000; Fair Labor Standards Act $213,200; Americans With Disabilities Act $93,100; Underground Storage Tank Regulations $257,600; Lead Based Paint $3,700 and Asbestos Removal Act $470.

In a previous Northern Star article DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow addressed the problem of unfunded mandates. He said “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. They (the federal government) tell us we must do something to comply with federal law, but they don’t send money along with these acts to do it.”

The conference was one of many across the country held by mayors, city managers and various city and county officials brought on by the recommendation of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The costs to take of these mandates come from the estimated annual staff costs and the estimated annual direct and indirect budget costs.

The estimated annual staff time for the Safe Drinking Water Act comes up at 7000 hours. The staff costs alone for the hours is estimated at $155,000.

“We don’t get a penny towards the staff costs required to take care of the tremendous amount of time needed to take care of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Nicklas said.

“It’s not that we don’t feel these are worthy causes,” he added. “It’s just that the philosophy at the national level has been to impose mandates on local governments without any funding.”

Naylor said the mandates sometimes get by unnoticed until it is almost too late to have anything done. “Over the years mandates have been placed in position at the federal and state level. We don’t realize they are there until well after the mandates have been passed.”

Some of the mandates set a date by which they are supposed to be taken care of. These dates get forgotten and become an issue when residents start to enforce them, Naylor said.

“We try to deal with the mandates on a day to day operation,” he said.

Nicklas said a positive way to look at unfunded mandates is that the city has more of a say on how the money is spent but the down side is “we don’t have the money to do it with no funding from the federal level.”

“What the Conference of Mayors is looking for is, if not 100 percent funding, then maybe a 50/50 cost sharing,” Nicklas said. “We will not sacrifice the quality of life locally but we sure could use some help.”

“The bottom line is that seven percent of the local tax money is going toward applying these mandates. Eventually, this hurts the pocket books of local tax payers because they will continued to be taxed regularly until some revenue is given from the federal level.”