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On Dec. 30, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz presented a tentative budget for fiscal year 2010-11 to the City Council – the nine aldermen and the mayor. Mr. Bobkiewicz proposes massive cuts to balance the budget, which will be discussed by City Council, beginning with the budget workshop on Jan. 9.

Several discrete funds comprise the City budget. Some, such as the parking fund and the water fund, are called “enterprise funds,” and are intended to be self-supporting. Others are funded by fees or taxes, including property taxes, or a combination of those.

Attention in this budget is focused on the General Fund – the City’s main operating budget – and the firefighters, the police and the municipal retirement funds.

The proposed General Fund budget, said Mr. Bobkiewicz in his transmittal letter to the Council, “includes $94,466,000 in expenses to maintain current services under projected contracts and staffing levels.” Projected revenues for the General Fund are about $84.9 million, resulting in a projected deficit of about $9.5 million in the General Fund.

To balance the budget, Mr. Bobkiewicz proposes reducing expenses by $7.25 million by, among other things, personnel reductions, furloughs, salary reductions for department heads, closing the branch libraries and the City’s dental services, and by decreases in social-services spending.

He also proposes to increase revenues by $2.34 million through increases in fees for refuse and recycling pickups and for some recreational programs. He does not propose an increase in the City’s portion of the property tax, which is about 20 percent of the total property tax bill.

Personnel

The budget proposes a reduction in personnel of about 47 full-time-equivalent positions, some of which are already vacant. It also suggests ways to reduce overtime expenses and proposes some interdepartmental restructuring, reallocation of personnel and changing of titles and positions.

The libraries and the health and human services departments take the greatest hit, the transmittal letter says, with many of the personnel associated with the branch libraries and the dental clinic to be laid off, and the position of long-term-care ombudsman eliminated. One proposed addition, however, is a government fellow for the City Manager’s office, at a cost of $60,000, as a part of Mr. Bobkiewicz’s proposed internal restructuring of City offices.

The fellow, chosen from a national database of recent graduates in master’s programs in urban planning, would fill the function of the assistant to the City Manager, said Mr. Bobkiewicz. With that position eliminated, Joe McRae, current assistant to the City Manager, would become the City’s chief customer officer, as proposed.  

Other proposals include that there be no cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for the coming year for all employees; no merit increases for non-represented employees (step increases for represented employees would continue); a 5 percent increase in employee contributions for health-care costs; requiring all employees to take three City holidays without pay; and a 5 percent pay cut for all department directors, including the Assistant City Manager and City Manager.

Other Cuts

Social service spending, already pared in the last several years, would be slashed by about $200,000. The City plans to increase its own broadcasts of City meetings, including posting You Tube recordings of most Council meetings on its website, and funding for the Evanston Community Media Center (ECMC) would be cut by about $200,000. Cutting out extra police patrols on weekends in the downtown area and co-patrols with the Northwestern University police are proposed, as are reductions in police personnel at the Fourth of July parade.

Pension Costs

Several factors are likely to increase pension costs for the upcoming fiscal year, according to the transmittal letter. The total contributions to the police and firefighters pension funds, determined by the City’s actuary, Gabriel Roeder Smith, $14.1 million, up more than 9 percent from last year.

 “However,” the letter continued, “it is the City’s Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) rate increase that is causing the largest pension cost increase” for the upcoming year. There are two main reasons for the IMRF increases, according to the letter. “The first and most significant increase is due to the payment of the early retirement incentive (ERI), which accounts for a majority of our cost increase in 2010-11. The second source of cost increases is the same as that facing the police and fire[fighters] pension funds, investment losses.”

Focus for 2010-11

In his letter of Dec. 20, Mr. Bobkiewicz suggested three areas on which City personnel should concentrate their efforts in the upcoming fiscal year: focusing on customer service; obtaining addition resources (such as volunteers and private sources) to deliver services to the community; and  operating more efficiently and effectively.

Reactions

Friends and supporters of both branch libraries are already gathering to ask the Council to keep both branches open. In a press release last month, Steve Bartlebaugh, executive director of ECMC said if the City cut the center’s funding by $200,000 as proposed, the center might have to close. 

The first workshop for the City’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year begins at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. Other reactions to the proposed budget are likely to be heard at that meeting and other places over the next few weeks as the cold reality of another tough fiscal year settles in on the community.