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On Feb. 3, City Council members again took steps toward resolving its budget crisis for 2010-11 – back-pedaling on their Monday night decision to close the branch libraries but moving forward with a decision not to cut fire department overtime. The branch libraries now can remain in operation until Aug. 31 to allow their supporters time to seek funding to keep the branches open. In addition, proposed cuts to the hours of operation of the main library have been eliminated.

Council members also decided to cut the funding to Evanston Community Media Center (ECMC) by $150,000 and funding to the Mental Health Board by $100,000. In the tentative budget, City Manager Walter Bobkiewicz proposed no funding for ECMC, as compared with the $200,000 the City gave it last year. The media center, in return for the $50,000, will develop “additional programming for the City,” according to the City’s website, www.cityofevanston.org. The proposed cut to Mental Health Board funding was $200,000, so the $100,000 cut approved by Council last night was somewhat less than proposed.

Council members agreed to eliminate some of the proposed staff reductions at Fleetwood Jourdain, Levy Center, Robert Crown Center and Forestry Division. They also were able to find another $400,000 with which to replenish the City’s operating reserves.

With the various decisions made over the past few weeks, the proposed budget is now balanced without any increase to the City’s portion of the property taxes, according to City staff. Council is scheduled to vote on the budget at the Feb. 8 City Council meeting. By law the City must approve a balanced budget by March1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Budget Vote Postponed on Feb. 8

The 15 speakers and some 70 observers who attended the City Council meeting on Feb. 8 were disappointed if they thought Council was going to vote on agenda item A-5, Resolution 13-R-10, the City’s 2010-11 budget. That item, along with a companion ordinance changing the fees for refuse and yard-waste collections, has been postponed to a special City Council meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. on Feb. 20 in Council chambers.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, who has many close ties to Haiti, has traveled there in the wake of last month’s devastating earthquake.

“Let’s make it clear,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, “He is not on vacation. He is in Haiti, which is where he should be.” Accommodating a request from Ald. Jean-Baptiste to wait until he returned to Evanston to discuss the budget, the other eight aldermen agreed upon the time and place of the special meeting.

By law, the City must approve a balanced budget by March 1, the beginning of the City’s new fiscal year. The last regularly scheduled City Council meeting is Feb. 22, so setting the budget vote at that late a date could put the Council in a time bind should Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl veto the budget – something she has indicated she is not likely to do.