At a special City Council meeting on Oct. 23, aldermen weighed in on the $191 million budget proposed for the 10-month fiscal year 2011. In some instances, they gave their views on some of the proposed cuts and layoffs; at other times they requested more information or clarification.

As proposed, the budget has a $3.1 million deficit, which City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz proposed to address by increasing some taxes and fees, adding furlough days, making some personnel and service reductions and increasing the City’s portion of the property tax by 3 percent. The City’s portion of the entire tax bill is about 20 percent. Mr. Bobkiewicz also proposed to add about 12 new hires and three new programs toward the end of making the delivery of City services more efficient. (See budget highlights below)

In addition to the proposed $3.1 million in adjustments, Mr. Bobkiewicz proposed about $800,000 in additional cuts, which he told aldermen they could use to “mix and match,” that is offset the cost of any programs or services they wished to add back into the budget with items from that proposed list. He told Council members, “I hope you won’t have to use these.”

The Oct. 23 meeting marked Council’s first public discussion of the proposed budget.

Requests for Clarification or Additional Information

Aldermen expressed concerns about the impact of the proposed elimination of 21.6 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions, some of which are vacant.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said, “Give us a rationale for eliminating the inclusion specialist. The position possibly came out of the City’s decision to be more open to the ‘disabled’ community.” He also asked, “Will we hear from department heads how they will [accommodate] these [proposed] cuts?”

Mr. Bobkiewicz said, “We’re prepared this morning to walk you through some of this.”

“So – ‘no,’” said Ald. Jean-Baptiste. “Then I would suggest that when you get that information, show how [the cuts] will impact services.”

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, asked, “Can we also have information on the possible revenue reductions for the City once these positions are eliminated – especially [positions] from revenue-generating departments?”

Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “The former director of the Ecology Center has advised us that she is opposed” to a reduction from full-time to half-time of a clerk at the Ecology Center. “How will that [cut] affect revenue?” she asked.

Looking at proposals to eliminate other positions, Ald. Rainey said she was “having a difficult time understanding [the elimination of certain positions] because I don’t know what [the employees] do. … If any of these has to do with maintaining or cleaning our parks – the way the City looks is very important.”

Suggestions from Aldermen

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she would like to see the City reconsider instituting license fees for home-based businesses and for rental units. She said she would exclude two-flats where the owners occupy one unit.

Ald. Rainey said she wanted all Council members to see a copy of an application for $400,000 to fund a youth-employment program that was submitted to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Committee by the City. “I have absolutely no confidence that this is going to address the situation. … We should call all the agencies that work with youth and turn [the employment program] over to them.”

Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, “The response from the CDBG Committee was that this [proposal] was not a bad thing. … We continue to have a significant problem: There are 40 kids who drop out of Evanston Township High School every year; some are warehoused in the alternative school. Let’s not be ready to throw [the employment program] out – don’t leave it up to agencies in this community with specific niches that have not addressed the problem.”

Ald. Holmes also suggested looking at other agencies “that provide [youth employment services], maybe more cheaply.” The Youth Job Center of Evanston is one local agency that helps youth up to age 24 with job skills, applications and employment.

Next Steps

The proposed budget does not include a capital improvement program (CIP); City officials said they would present the CIP proposals at the Nov. 8 City Council meeting.

The public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 6 in Council Chambers at the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. The City has tentatively scheduled additional budget discussions on Nov. 11 and 15, with a “truth in taxation” hearing scheduled for Nov. 22. That date is also the anticipated date that Council will adopt the budget.

Some Proposed Reductions

• No merit salary increases for non-union employees;

• Three furlough days for all non-union and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) personnel;

• Allocation for purchase of new trees cut by half;

• Allocation for elm-tree injection program cut by one-third;

• Elimination of 21.6 FTE employees (net 9.6). Several of these positions have been vacant for months or even a year or more.

Add-Backs and New Programs

• 12 FTE positions added with the new 3-1-1 call center;

• Restoration of 2 percent of last year’s 5 percent salary cut of department directors’ salaries;

• New mass-alert system, under which the City would notify every resident of “things such as fires, accidents, emergencies,” using e-mail, telephone calls (cell and land-line), text messages and the like;

• Volunteer center though which those who wish to volunteer in any program would use the City as a clearinghouse;

• 3-1-1 call center, where all non-emergency calls to the City would be handled. The center would operate 6 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily.

Some Proposed Revenue Enhancements

• 3 percent increase in the City’s portion of the property tax;

• One-cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax, making the City’s total gasoline tax three cents per gallon;

• $2 increase in beach token fees;

• Increases in the electric utility tax (various amounts) and right-of-way permit fees;

• Hiring a development director: a minimum of $45,000 expected from that effort;

• Stepped-up efforts to collected current and owed fines and fees: $50,000 expected.

The Council has already approved a 10 percent water-rate hike for next year.

Pensions

Unfunded liabilities for police and firefighters pensions continue to plague the City. For the next fiscal year, the required contributions as estimated by the City’s actuary will be $8.5 million to the firefighters pension fund and $11.4 million to the police pension fund.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said both major party candidates for governor have supported “”pension reform”” that would include penalties for communities whose pensions were funded at less than 50 percent. “”Just to add to the general gloom,”” she said, noting that Evanston is among those communities with pensions less than 50 percent funded.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “”This is the single biggest item that residents can voice concern to their legislators about. This ‘pension reform’ could cost the City millions of dollars.””