The Evanston Chamber of Commerce endorses the basic principles of the proposed 2010-11 City of Evanston budget.  

As business owners, we understand first-hand the difficult financial decisions that confront the City Council.  We have had to make these same types of decisions in the last year which have resulted in layoffs, cutbacks, and other serious measures.  

The Evanston Chamber commends the City Council for directing the City Manager to address the structural deficit facing Evanston.  The commitment by the City Council to tackle the structural financial issues and make tough decisions both this year and in the next several years is laudable and deserving of respect and support.  Furthermore, The Chamber is impressed with the eagerness of the City Council to make this year’s budget decisions consistent with the 12 goals the City Council outlined last year and with the City’s Strategic Plan.  

In past years, proposals for cuts in services have met vocal resistance that generated great debate on issues, though rarely shedding light on appropriate alternatives.  What’s different about this year’s budget is the economic context in which Evanston and most other local governments find themselves.  No longer can municipalities rely on the “natural growth” in sales tax and property tax revenues that they once could.  No longer can Evanston delay its responsibilities to its pension obligations nor can the City count on assistance from the State of Illinois.  And, finally, no longer can reactionary opposition to specific cuts be an acceptable answer without considering the broad context of the City budget. 

At a time when all sectors of the economy as well as institutions and other governing bodies are making strategic cuts to meet financial obligations, so too, must the City of Evanston.  

The Chamber believes there are several principles that bear repeating as the City Council weighs the merits of the proposed budget.  

Citizen Input:   The City Manager and City Council, to their credit, have engaged the community in a transparent budget process, which has encouraged many good ideas and resulted in unprecedented participation from citizens and from City staff.  Whatever the outcome, no one can walk away from this discussion and claim that their voice was not heard and considered.  

Focus on Core Services:  The proposed budget is a long-overdue recognition that Evanston municipal government must center its attention on the delivery of essential services including:  safety, public works and infrastructure, parks and recreation, and community and economic development.  This is not to suggest that other services offered by the City are not important.  But in a time when difficult choices must be made, this budget reflects the core mission of local government. 

Shared Sacrifice:  The cost saving measures proposed asks all City employees to give up certain wage and benefit compensation.  The managerial team has taken the lead by cutting their own salaries and requested other City staff to follow with adjustments that should reduce personnel costs. 

Commitment to Clear Operating Objectives:  The proposed budget is more than a set of numbers; it also articulates a pathway to ensure that citizens and businesses in Evanston will receive the best (not the most) services possible.  Those objectives are: a focus on customer service, obtaining additional resources to deliver services to Evanston, and operating more efficiently, innovatively, and effectively. 

The budget offers a consolidation of some City departments and a reorganization of how and who provides a number of administrative services.  The Chamber believes the City Council should support these administrative recommendations which provide a new way of execution.  If the City is able to achieve the projected savings from these proposed initiatives, it will be easier to face other challenges the City might need to confront in the future. 

Long-term Approach:  The proposed City budget approaches the financial challenges with steps to close its structural deficit.  Although there are small signs of economic recovery, the budget acknowledges that it may be some time before Evanston’s economy begins to generate the kind of growth that it experienced in the last two decades.  Making substantial service cuts now will go a long way to slowing the growth in financial obligations. 

Evanston citizens and businesses must now appreciate that a large part of the budget is now being driven by unfunded mandates in the areas of pension obligations and other benefit programs for the City of Evanston’s large employee bargaining units, particularly fire and police personnel.  These employee groups that will benefit in retirement from the increased contributions being made by the City, need to recognize the advantages to their long term best interests with this budget approach.  We urge their support of the budget recommendations of the City Manager.  

Finally, businesses in Cook County already face a disproportionate property tax burden.  This has been one important factor causing businesses to relocate or expand elsewhere.  A City budget that does not include higher fees and taxes on commercial enterprises is a very sensible policy for the City.  The Chamber is also supportive of how the budget priorities address the recession’s impact on Evanston with a renewed focus on economic development and job creation. 

Therefore, The Chamber endorses the basic principles of the proposed City budget and applauds the efforts to balance the challenges the City faces with being fiscally responsible.

The Evanston Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

February 1, 2010

Randall Usen, First Bank & Trust, President
Steve Hagerty, Hagerty Consulting, Inc., President-Elect
Daniel Mennemeyer, Daniel Mennemeyer Agency, Inc., Treasurer
Lawrence Widmayer, Koenig & Strey, GMAC Commercial Group, V.P. for Governmental Affairs & Economic Development
Kristen Murtos, NorthShore University HealthSystem, V.P. for Marketing/Communications
Corrine Passage, Pivot Point International, V.P. for Membership
Eugene Sunshine, Northwestern University, V.P. for Regional Affairs 
Mary Abraham, National City Bank
Richard Braunstein, Rotary International
Jill Norton, Jill Norton Photography
Shaun Chinski, Good’s of Evanston
Deb Evans, The Celtic Knot
David Fisher, RockStar Consulting
Paul Giddings, FolkWorks Gallery
Patrick Hughes, Inclusion Solutions
Barbara Klein, Hilton Garden Inn
Mary Leary, Mather LifeWays
David LeRoy, Diagnostics Technical Support
Joe Liss, Brown, Kaplan & Liss, LLP
Jeff Murphy, St. Francis Hospital
Monique Parsons, McGaw YMCA
Lynn Phillips, Robinson Enterprises
Robert Piron, Belgian Chocolatier Piron, Inc.
Barbara Rizzo, Oakton Community College
Joseph Romano, Romano Brothers & Co.
Tracey Samlow, MJCatering, Inc.
Jaime Varela, Harris Bank Evanston