City Council held a public hearing on its proposed budget for 2018 on Oct. 28, after which members of Council expressed concerns about some aspects of the budget for the General Fund, the City’s main operating fund. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has proposed a number of strategies to help reduce a projected $6.1 shortfall in the General Fund.
The main area of concern appeared to be a proposed transfer of the victim assistance services currently provided by social workers in the Police Department to the City’s Human Services Department. See accompanying story.
Other issues raised by community members and Council members included: 1) a consolidation of the Bureau Chief positions of the Environmental Services Bureau with the Infrastructure Maintenance Bureau; 2) combining the managerial positions of the Levy Senior Center and the Chandler Center into one position; and 3) shifting the youth advocacy position from the Police Department to the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Merging Environmental Services and Infrastructure Maintenance
As part of the proposed budget, City administrators are proposing to combine the Environmental Services Bureau and the Infrastructure Maintenance Bureau and create a new Public Services Bureau. They would then eliminate the Bureau Chief positions of the two bureaus and replace them with one Bureau Chief. The current Bureau Chiefs would be given the opportunity to apply for the new positon, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.
Several public speakers praised Paul D’Agostino, the Bureau Chief of the Environmental Service Bureau. Judy Pollack, an Evanston resident and consultant to the City on a habitat restoration project, said Mr. D’Agostino has been responsive and able to generate enthusiasm “where you have scores of volunteers who are engaged and excited about restoring the natural habitat in Evanston. … Paul has really been quietly, but very effectively, been there encouraging this all along.”
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she had serious concerns about merging the Environmental Services Bureau with the Infrastructure Maintenance Bureau, saying the new manager may need to have expertise in several different areas. She questioned whether the two departments could be effectively managed by one person. She said she was concerned the proposal would be “taking away our focus from an issue that’s of deep concern to all of us in Evanston,” and “our focus on maintaining our green environment is going to get diluted.
“I want to have a discussion on that at our next budget discussion meeting,” Ald. Wynne said.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said, “We’d like to come back to you with a plan that would continue to have the two bureaus merge, but to have a staff member that would do tree advocacy in addition to a full forestry division.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she agreed with Ald. Wynne and thought the City could run with the two bureau chiefs.
Under the proposed budget, the managerial positions of the Chandler Center and the Levy Senior Center would be eliminated and consolidated into one position. The new manager would devote 80% of her/his time to the Levy Center and 20% to Chandler.
Several community members urged City Council to keep the manager of the Levy Center a full-time position, saying “Our senior population is going to be growing, and we need to have a full-time manager at the Levy Center.” They also spoke highly of the current manager.
Ald. Rainey urged Council to keep a full-time manager at the Levy Center. “There is a huge operation over there. It’s a big facility. It’s a beautiful facility. It needs full-time attention,” she said.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, agreed, saying, “Chandler and Levy are totally different facilities. We should give the Levy Center the support it needs.”
Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services (PRCS), said the manager of the Levy Center has historically been responsible for multiple facilities He added that the last job posting for the position of manager of the Levy Center said the manager would be responsible for both the Levy Center and the Ecology Center.
In terms of having one manager for the Levy Center and the Chandler Center, he said, “When you look at overall attendance and members and size of the operations, we felt that this could be a good mix.”
Mr. Bobkiewicz said the budget proposed a few weeks ago has been amended to retain the current youth advocacy position, which is a 30-hour per week position. A 20-hour a week youth-advocacy position which is currently vacant would not be filled, he said. Under the revised proposal, the youth advocate would continue to work out of the Evanston Police Station, but will report to Mr. Hemingway at PRCS.
Mr. Hemingway said that since late 2011, a team of youth outreach workers has worked out of the PRCS. He said the team is modeled after Operation Ceasefire and recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice - Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the team works with youth to stem violence and find job opportunities for youth.
Mr. Hemingway said he thought it would be beneficial to have the youth advocate be part of PRCS and to consolidate “all the City’s overall at-risk services into one department.” He said, “The department will be able to serve clients in a more comprehensive holistic way.”
The budget proposes three furlough days that would reduce expenses by $360,000,
Daniel Stein, as a representative of the City’s Recreation Board, asked Council to be mindful of the impact furlough days may have on senior lunches at the Levy Center, pre- and after-school care at the Crown Center, and the impact on school-age children needing after-school programs.
Ride-Share Service Charge
Several aldermen said they were receiving emails and calls about a proposed service charge on ride-share companies, such as UBER and LYFT. The service charge would amount to 20 cents per ride that originated in Evanston, and is expected to generate revenues of $100,000. Chicago charges a higher fee.
Aldermen appeared to support the charge. Ald. Fiske said when she told her constituents the charge was 20 cents, the reaction was, “Sorry to bother you.”
Ald. Fiske suggested imposing a fee on private buses that operate in the City, unless they are emission-free.
Another new proposed tax is an Airbnb tax, which would be the same rate as the City’s hotel tax and generate $90,000 in revenues.
Ald. Fiske urged that the tax be applied to the City’s two B&Bs. City staff estimate the revenues generated would be $10,000 per year.
Cradle to Career
Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, proposed that the City reduce its funding to Evanston Cradle to Career (EC2C) from $50,000 to $25,000 – “not because it’s not a good program,” she said, “but because we’ve also made an investment in Dr. [Patricia] Efiom to look at equity work in the City.”
EC2C is a partnership of School Districts 65 and 202, the City, Northwestern University, Oakton Community College and approximately 40 other community organizations who are partnering together using a collective impact model, to ensure that “By the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be on the path to leading happy, healthy, productive, and satisfying lives.”
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “I hesitate to step back from that commitment, particularly in light of the fact that as we continue to evolve our services, we’re relying more heavily on our community partners.
Ald. Fleming also asked City staff to take a look at providing after-school activities for youth in south Evanston.
A Four-Day Work Week
Ald. Fleming proposed that at some point in the future, Council think about moving to a “four-day work week in the City building,” not including police or fire or recreation. Under the proposal, employees in the City building would work, for example, 36 hours over four days, rather than 37.5 over five days.
“In my opinion, staff morale might be a little better in the long run if people can say, ‘I’m going to lose a Friday and a couple of hours, versus I might lose my position altogether,’” she said.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said he will work with staff and present adjustments to the budget, based on Aldermen’s comments at the meeting. He said the revised budget would be on the agenda for Council’s Nov. 13 and 20 meetings and is scheduled to be voted on at the Nov. 20 meeting.