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The three-and-a-half hour public hearing on the budget on Nov. 6 drew dozens of residents to write their thoughts on the blackboard that is the City Manager’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011.

Residents voiced concerns in three broad categories: cuts to specific personnel, cuts to allocations to be made by City boards and cuts to certain programs.

Some residents described the loss of services that would be incurred by cutting a position; others addressed the overall cost to the City – in terms of quality of life as well as dollars – of eliminating a program or position.

Still others objected to the City Manager’s budget, with about $700,000 allocated for a new 3-1-1 call system and $300,000 reserved for contingencies. Mr. Bobkiewicz proposed to pay for the 3-1-1 system through a series of personnel and program cuts.

Eliminating Zoning Administrator
And Inclusion Specialist

Two members of the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), Lori Summers and Beth McClennan, spoke of the need for a zoning administrator. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has proposed eliminating the position of zoning administrator but said the duties would be taken over by another employee.

Ms. Summers said a zoning administrator is needed to make final decisions about zoning and to defend those decisions before the ZBA. “I know that morale is very low [in the zoning division] and leadership has been lacking because of the changes [already implemented].” Ms. McClennan added that the zoning administrator must know the City’s zoning ordinance and its comprehensive general plan. “With more cuts [in personnel], they’re not going to effectively do their jobs,” she said.

Inclusion specialist Brian Barnes, whose position is on the chopping block, spoke of some of his duties and accomplishments. As inclusion specialist, he said, he has handled about 97 percent of the ADA complaints. He makes recommendations about whether buildings and programs are in compliance with ADA and has also helped get more curb cuts in sidewalks, allowing greater access for wheelchairs.

Larry Biondi and Jan Weeks, both residents of Over the Rainbow Associaton, spoke of Mr. Barnes’s work, particularly with respect to the curb cuts. “As a person with disabilities, I value my independence,” Mr. Biondi said. Ms. Weeks said, “There are 30 of us [at Over the Rainbow] and we go all over town. We have worked very hard to get curb cuts.” Addressing the Council members, she said, “We are part of the community and have been for 19 years. There are going to be more of us – and you’re going to get older, too.”

The Cost of Cost-Cutting

Reducing the clerk at the Ecology Center from full-time to half-time could reduce by 30 percent the revenue generated from fees there, said Fred Schneider. “You might save $30,000, but you could lose about $113,000 [of the $340,000] in revenues generated,” he told the Council members.

In a similar vein, Virginia Mann, co-founder of To Rescue Evanston Elms, a committee formed several years ago with the acronym T.R.E.E., said reducing the budget for injecting elm trees against Dutch elm disease might have short-term gains but would lead to long-term losses. She cited information from the City that the elm-tree injection program was 99.38 percent effective.

“The City removed 81 trees last year, at a cost of about $3,000 per tree.” Cutting the injection program to the City’s more than 2,200 elms and putting those trees at risk would cost the City more than the injection program, she said. “There is no option on that proven, cost-effective, environmentally sensitive program.”

Community activist Jeff Smith presented an analysis of the cost of cutting the branch libraries, based on his own research and data from the City. He said over five years the cost could be about $500,000, which included the direct costs of closing the libraries and moving the collections, lost sales tax revenues generated by patrons of the branches who also shop in the area, lost property tax revenues because of lowering of nearby property values when the branches are closed. These costs, as well as the “political, social and educational costs” to cut the branches, he said, should be balanced against the $150,000 of keeping the branches open.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she was convinced that the library branches, particularly the North Branch, are economic engines and that she would like to see them funded for six months from the City’s Economic Development Fund.

Others Talk of the Library Branches

Several others spoke in favor of keeping the branches open, and at least two persons, Ms. Summers and Jason Hayes, said they approved closing them. Charlotte Sussman, one of the owners of Vogue Fabrics on Main Street, said that as a community member who grew up in Evanston, a mother and a business-owner, she favored keeping the library branches open.

Dan McAndrew, a teacher at Park School – District 65’s self-contained school for students with severe disabilities – said he takes his class to the South Branch library on Wednesdays both so they can hear the stories and so they can see others and be seen by them. “They can hear the stories and look at books and magazines. People look at my students and realize that they’re like everyone else.” Closing the South Branch, he said, “would be a big loss to a vital part of their education.”

Noting that voters had placed their confidence in the City Council members, Library Board member Diane Allen said, “I urge you to reaffirm your confidence in the Library Board by accepting the Board’s present plans for services in fiscal year 2011 and to collaborate with us as we develop realistic long-term strategies.”

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, a strident opponent of the branch libraries, continued her barrage against the two branches, which she calls the “east branches” and whose patrons she calls “elitist.” She said she would like to close the two branches because, among other reasons, there are none on the west side.

Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover said she resented that persons who access branch library services are called names such as “elitist” whereas that is not done with persons who access City services from other buildings or community centers.

Mental Health Board Allocations – Funding for Evanston’s Most Vulnerable

Several persons supported additional funding for the Mental Health Board. Marcia Achenbach, chair of the City’s Mental Health Board, said the board – the funding for which has been cut drastically in the past decade – is requesting $654,000 in funding for the 10-month fiscal year 2011. (See guest essay on page 7.)

Cass Wolfe, executive director of the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, said “making sure that basic human services are met is critical.” Kate Mahoney, executive director of PEER Services, told the Council that funds allocated by the City can be leveraged to obtain additional funding, because of the show of community support.

Council members are scheduled to deliberate the budget at their Nov. 15 meeting, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in Council chambers of the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.