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June 21, 2018

5/15/2018 6:26:00 PM
Priority-Based Budgeting
A Guest Essay By City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz


It is great to live, work, shop or go to school in Evanston. The amenities offered here include a beautiful lakefront, vibrant business districts, great schools, multiple transportation opportunities and outstanding public safety services, just to name a few. 

Our community also holds values of sustainability, equity, cultural arts support and helping those of our neighbors in need as important community standards. Maintaining and enhancing these current services provided by the City of Evanston requires the support of local taxes and fees.  In addition, these same taxes and fees also support debt acquired to finance capital improvements over the years and to support the retirement costs of retired City workers. The costs of providing services continue to outpace the City’s current revenues.  In a climate where residents wish to see no further increases in taxes and fees, the only way to address this budget imbalance is address our City expenditures.

In most years, the City of Evanston reaches out to the community in the early Fall to get feedback on budget priorities for the next year budget beginning January 1.  For the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, I have asked the City Council to begin the process months earlier so that the community can engage in a priority-based budget process. 

Priority-based budgeting measures all programs provided by the City against a single set of metrics. These measures capture program finances, supply and demand for the service, and whether the program is essential to meeting City Council’s goals, including equity.

The first stage of priority-based budgeting was undertaken by staff during March and April. First, departments were asked to submit a list of all programs provided. They scored their own department’s programs based on mandate to provide program, cost recovery, demand for program, reliance on City for service, and portion of community served. Next, a group of staff from all departments convened to review the full list and decide on the appropriate ratings for the City Council goals. These two sets of scores were added for a total program score, producing a ranked list of about 150 programs.

Staff used the information from this list to pull a group of about 50 programs to focus on during the public input portion of the process. Using the bottom half of the ranked list, staff removed those programs that were required to be provided by the City or that generated net revenue. This resulted in the list of programs that are now included in the public survey which began on May 10. Detailed information about the programs can be found on the City’s website.

The survey asks residents to consider this list of programs and select 10 that they believe to be the most important for the City to provide and 10 that could be reduced. None of the programs are “easy cuts” – all are important to the community, which is what makes this process necessary. This will allow us to focus resources on those programs determined to be priorities, and look for alternative ways to deliver those services determined to be less crucial for the City to provide.

I encourage all residents to take 15 minutes to complete this survey in the way that makes the most sense for you. The survey will be available online for Evanston residents to complete through June 7 at our website. Paper copies are available at community centers and the library.

In addition, the City will hold an Open House on Thursday, May 24 from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Morton Civic Center. During this event, staff will make a short presentation on priority-based budgeting at 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 p.m. Between presentations, staff will be available to answer questions about the process and specific programs. Residents may complete the survey at the event.

The priority based budgeting review is only the FIRST step in the annual budget process. Staff will return to City Council on June 18 with the results of this community survey and seek additional direction from the City Council. Additional review will be done by City staff and a next check in with the City Council will occur July 30.  Included in this additional review will be a careful examination of each program or service proposed to be reduced to evaluate any equity issues of the proposal.  Another round of community input will occur in September prior to the release of the City Manager’s Proposed 2019 Budget on October 6. The City Council will then conduct a public hearing on the budget and take other resident input through October and November, before the budget is adopted in late November.

Evanston is a special place. Please help focus the City’s available resources on those programs and services that make Evanston so special.





Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2018
Comment by: Michael Sockol

I believe that civil services are a cornerstone to a healthy community and ultimately, functional democracy. Cutting fundamental accessibility programs like senior taxi voucher program, the bus program, and the meal program is retrogressive and a short sighted solution to always looming budgetary crises.



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