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Mayor Elizabeth Tisdhal delivered her State of the City address before a packed house at the Hotel Orrington’s Grand Ballroom Friday, Feb. 25. The crowd included all nine Aldermen, numerous City staff, and business and community leaders and representatives from the nonprofit community. The Mayor’s message to the gathered crowd: The City is doing more with less in difficult economic times.
The Mayor attempted to dispel any thoughts of City bankruptcy right away. “Forget about it. That’s not happening here,” she said, speaking of a New York Times article reporting that municipalities were facing bankruptcy across the country.
“A year ago we cut $9.5 million from the budget. This year’s budget has cuts totaling $3.5 million,” she said. She called the budget process “a balancing act” in which the City tries not to “increase taxes so much that businesses leave” but maintains the services that citizens want and value. The City has assets other than a tax base, she said, including access to Lake Michigan, volunteers, Northwestern University, two hospitals, and a ‘savvy business community.”
As an example, she cited the City’s response to the recent snow emergency. Even with a smaller staff than the City had during previous blizzards, the City responded and “did a better-than-ever-before job of snow removal,” she said. Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson, pointed out by the Mayor, received an enthusiastic ovation.
The Mayor praised the City’s “dynamic” economic development team and their efforts to attract new businesses to Evanston.
Addressing pensions, Mayor Tisdahl put the onus on Springfield to act. “We have raised taxes to cover the increasing costs of police and firefighter pensions and we will be forced to do that again and again until our state legislature agrees upon meaningful pension reform,” she said. “We owe our policemen and firemen pensions. We want to pay them and we will,” she said.
Mayor Tisdahl campaigned on improved relations with Northwestern, and since taking office has worked hard to make things better.
While the Mayor praised an overall drop in crime, she said that six murders in 2010 was “six more than our goal, which is zero.”
Mayor Tisdahl concluded her remarks by praising the City’s youth. She highlighted the response of teenagers when members of the Westboro Church came to town to protest against the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. “There were more teenagers protesting the bad guys at each of the locations than there were bad guys,” she said, and as a result the Westboro contingent gave up and went elsewhere. “The kids were jumping up and down cheering when they got the word. I congratulated them and drove home thinking, ‘What’s the state of a city where teenagers act like that?’ The future of Evanston looks incredibly good.”