The City has opened up its process for crafting the 2019 budget by asking community members to provide input on more than 50 programs and services through an online and hard-copy survey.
The results of the survey should guide City staff, and ultimately, City Council, in their decisions about which programs to cut in order to come up with a balanced budget and a minimal – if any – increase in the City’s portion of the property tax. The City’s portion of the entire property tax bill is about 20%.
The survey is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/EvanstonBudget, and printed copies are available at Evanston Public Library locations and community centers. The deadline to complete the survey is June 7.
City staff narrowed 152 programs to the ones on the survey by using a single set of metrics that included whether the program or service is mandated by law and whether it generates revenue. Given those constraints, the majority of remaining programs will be those that affect our quality of life.
This is a part of priority-based budgeting. By whatever name, though, the choices about what to fund and what to cut will reflect the values of the City Council, and, one would hope, of the community.
We urge all community members to take and to take a very careful look at programs that directly affect our fellow Evanstonians who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, that includes nearly all of the programs on the chopping block.
While we applaud the City’s wish to gather citizen input, we do not favor the all-or-nothing approach that a survey such as this promotes. Residents are asked not to pare down the funding for certain programs but to choose which ones they would eliminate altogether.
That the City Council and City administrators have promised to look at all City actions through an equity lens makes decisions like this almost universally unsatisfactory.
Nonetheless, this is where we are. There are far more than 10 programs we would vote to preserve, particularly those that support our vulnerable and at-risk residents, those affected with a mental illness, crime victims, school children, artists, beaches, parks and trees, to name a few.
One set of programs and services we would point to now, which we feel must be preserved, is the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division. Since 2012, that division, under the leadership of Kevin Brown, has served more than 6,500 at-risk youth and young adults and their families here, assisting residents in locating educational, employment and employment-training opportunities. Youth and Young Adult Division staff have also helped clients erase or seal past criminal histories so they could become eligible for quality employment and housing.
Just over three years ago, in January 2015, then-Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and the City of Evanston were honored for the success of the 2014 Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program. That same year, Police Chief Richard Eddington said, "By tirelessly seeking ongoing employment opportunities for the youth of the community, the Youth and Young Adult Division has created a productive workforce for Evanston. The division also has contributed greatly to public safety. While intervening in potentially violent situations its outreach workers have, in my opinion, defused many potentially violent situations over the course of the past two summers. My further opinion is that they contributed substantially to the reduction of retaliatory shootings during summer 2015.”
The Youth and Young Adult Division has partnered with both School Districts and with local nonprofit -organizations serving youth in our community.
Through their outreach and partnerships, they have strengthened Evanston’s safety net for vulnerable and at-risk youth. In short, this team saves lives.
There are many valuable programs and services at risk right now. Amid the uncertainty about the future that pervades the country, one thing we can do for this community is support a program that steers – sometimes even coaxes – many youth from dead-end futures to education and employment.
This is one of many, many programs we trust the community, City staff and City Council will preserve.