Citizen comment and City presentations consumed nearly three of the four hours of the first budget workshop, held on Jan. 9 to address a projected $9.4 million hole in next year’s budget without raising property taxes.
Residents and others packed City Council chambers; some remained standing against the walls and some spilled over into the anteroom, where the meeting was broadcast live; 48 of them signed up to speak at the citizen comment portion of the meeting. Most spoke in favor of keeping the branch libraries open and maintaining at least last year’s funding for the Evanston Community Media Center. Others requested the City not to reduce the levels at which the City’s mental health board funds mental health and other social service programs. (See story on page 2 and sidebars on this page.)
Department heads presented the proposed budget cuts, and some offered information about how those cuts would affect services. While aldermen offered few comments and most requested additional information, midway through the presentation of departmental budget cuts, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “It’s not just one department [getting cut]. Everybody here is participating.”
Because the 2009-10 budget – for the fiscal year that will end on Feb. 28 of this year – contained what Mr. Bobkiewicz termed “rosy projections,” the City has had to trim about $2 million in expenses since October and will spend about $1.7 million in reserves through the end of the present fiscal year.
The 2010-11 Budget
At $234 million the tentative budget for fiscal year 2010-11 is only 0.24 percent larger than the present fiscal year’s budget, Mr. Bobkiewicz said in his transmittal letter to the Council. It is not balanced but has a $9.4 gap between the projected expenses and projected revenues in the General Fund, the City’s main operating budget.
Because the tentative budget holds the line on property taxes, it proposes dramatic cuts – more than $7 million all told – in nearly every City department. It also proposes about $2.4 million in revenue enhancements.
In addition, Mr. Bobkiewicz has proposed a restructuring of City operations, which, he says, will lead to greater efficiencies and will allow the City to provide core services even with reduced funding.
City Council has final authority over the budget, which must be balanced and approved by March 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Key Factors Affecting the Budget
Assistant City Manager Martin Lyons highlighted some key factors that impact next year’s projected revenues and expenses. Because of the continuing economic downturn, he said, the City projects decreases in real estate transfer taxes, utility taxes, building permits and sales taxes (both home rule and reimbursements from the state). Personnel costs are projected to increase with an expected 4-percent wage increase and a $750,000 increase in health-care costs.
Other projected increases in expenses, Mr. Lyons said, are a 47-percent increase in the City’s contribution to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, more than $1 million increase in the contributions to the firefighters and police pension funds (totals of $6.3 million and $7.8 million respectively).
The proposed $2.3 million in additional revenues for next year, Mr. Lyons said, would come from four main sources: a transfer of $400,000 from Evanston Township; new revenues of about $1.4 million from increased fees for recycling and other changes in solid-waste disposal; reimbursement of $290,000 from the two school districts for the school liaison police officers; and a transfer of $200,000 from the parking fund.
Proposed Cuts: $7 Million
City administrators are proposing massive cuts totaling $7 million, which include the elimination of 46 full-time-equivalent positions, fewer than half of which are currently vacant.
By department the proposed expense reductions are as follows:
• Administrative Services (New name for combined BPAT, Human Resources, Finance): $1,131,240
• Community Development: $277,000
• Police: $493,500
• Fire: $433,000
• Health and Human Services: $393,000
• Public Works: $881,000
• Library: $843,643
• Parks Forestry and Recreation: $987,789
In addition to the departmental cuts, the budget proposes $1.6 million in expenditure reductions: No cost-of-living adjustment ($950,000); no merit pay for non-union employees ($100,000); a 5 percent increase in employee insurance contributions ($50,000); 5 percent pay cuts for department heads ($50,000); three unpaid holidays for all staff ($540,000); refinancing Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund debt ($150,000). One add-back is $200,000 for staff training, City officials said.
The aldermen listened to the proposed cuts in almost complete silence. Afterward, some of them questioned some proposed revenue enhancements. Others asked how the proposed cuts would impact residents and affect City services.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, asked for more information about how the creation of the volunteer coordinator position would help in budget reduction. She also said she thought an across-the-board increase of 5 percent for employees to contribute toward health insurance “does not seem equitable.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked whether the school districts had agreed to reimburse the City for the cost of the liaison police officers. Mr. Bobkiewicz said no agreements have been reached but “we’ve had positive talks.”
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she would like to have more information about the “status of talks with the Northwestern University police and on the elimination of weekend patrols in the downtown area.”
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she would like to look at the possibility of more cuts in the Parks/Forestry division. “Can we look at what would happen if we reduced the [elm] tree [inoculations]?
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he would like additional information from all departments on how the proposed cuts would impact each deparatment.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she would also like a memo on the impact of closing the beaches at 7:30 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she would like more information about the dental clinic, which the budget proposes to close, and the demographics of the users. She also asked for feedback from the Mental Health Board about what the cuts would mean for social service agencies funded by the board. (See sidebars)
Mr. Bobkiewicz has also proposed $1.5 million in additional cuts, which he originally said could be used either for the firefighters and police pensions or to help build up the City’s reserves, which were depleted by about $1.7 million this year. At the end of the budget workshop he said Council also might consider these proposed cuts as “swaps” in the event they choose not to adhere to his proposals. The next budget workshop is scheduled for Jan. 23.
Cutting Funding For Social Services
With a proposed reduction of $200,000 in funding for social services, several people spoke about the need to retain funding that helped “strengthen families.”
Terri Beem, a board member of Childcare Network of Evanston, said, “Do not cut $200,000 from the Mental Health Board budget. Those who will be affected are not here today – their voices are not heard. They are the mentally ill, the homeless, poor children and single mothers – those who are already underserved.”
Marsha Fincher, also of CNE, spoke about “the importance of retaining family programs.” She spoke of “many African-American males” who have sired children and need support “to strengthen families and correct the mistakes of the past. … We need to teach young men … how to be fathers and teach young women how to be mothers.”
Cass Wolfe, executive director of Infant Welfare Society, which operates Baby Toddler Nursery and Teen Baby Nursery, asked that the City “keep services that support and strengthen families.” She cited studies by James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winner, that showed that for every dollar spent on early childhood education and services there is a savings of $7 to $14 later in life – in such things as “juvenile justice, incarceration, social services and school dropouts.”
Elizabeth Gordon, director of Evanston Skokie Valley Senior Services, Heather Joseph of Metropolitan Family Services, and Susan Ruhl, director of Total Child Center 516 Church St., all asked for continued support through Mental Health Board funding.
Closing the Dental Clinic
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he proposed closing the dental clinic as a way of continuing the process begun two years ago with discontinuation of most direct services provided by the health department. He also said that the success of the free H1N1 vaccination clinics held by the City with help from other organizations showed that the City can muster public-private partnerships when needed.
Evonda Thomas, director of health and human services, said, “Two thousand children served annually by the clinic will have to identify a new source of care. Ninety percent of these children are from low-income families, and about 50 percent of the clients have limited English skills.” Typically, she said, dental services for low-income families are covered by [the state program] AllKids. “We have identified four dental practices in Evanston that take AllKids,” she said, adding that the reimbursement process is slow.
Firefighters Oppose Proposed Cuts
Brian Scott, president of the Evanston firefighters union (Firefighters Association EFF Local 742), said, “Within today’s budget, there’s some proposed reductions by City staff that will have a very negative and significant impact on public safety.” He said the City was proposing a “fire departmental redeployment” to save $275,000, under which a fire engine or a fire truck would be taken out of service, if a normal regular shift dropped below 26 firefighter personnel, due to illness or absence of a firefighter. The current practice is to add a substitute firefighter, at additional cost, to keep each shift at 26 persons. Under the propose change, Mr. Scott said an engine or fire truck would be taken out of service an estimated 250 times during next year.
Mr. Scott said the fire department “is already critically understaffed by every industry standard and community comparable, and an additional reduction in staffing will only advance this already unsafe condition.” He said taking an engine or truck out of service may also affect response time, which in certain situations is critical to saving lives. Mr. Scott said the firefighters recognized the gravity of the City’s current fiscal situation and had offered viable solutions that would not impact public safety.