Many of us may feel we have a good head-start on spring, having already set the clocks forward, raked out winter’s debris, planted cool-weather vegetables, and staked out what we hope to be accurate street-sweeping notices. But much remains to be done, because spring is now the beginning of the City’s budget season.

That we are in a tight economy and will again have to choose among seemingly vital programs, personnel and services to maintain, improve, decrease or eliminate is neither welcome nor news. Another year of these painful choices does not make the process or the result any more palatable. But we believe there are things that both City officials and residents can do to mitigate the anger and frustration that the present economy presages for the coming months

We urge City Council members – as they have done in prior years – to take a hard and independent look at expenditures before tackling possible new fees or revenue increases. Unfortunately, it is not easy to locate “big-ticket” items; all the low-hanging fruit was picked off years ago. We would, however, urge aldermen to scrutinize the costs and benefits of maintaining a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

The last report from our lobbyists – nearly a year ago – was that there is no money to be had in the nation’s capital. We paid them $200,000 for their time. It is quite likely that the news will be the same this year and that we could ascertain that by reading or listening to reputable media or by speaking with our Congressional representatives – or both.

Moreover, it is not clear that we need a City presence in Washington, D.C., when our Congresswoman resides here – and has always been aware of and attentive to the concerns of Evanston – and our City Manager and our Mayor have traveled to Washington to lobby on behalf of Evanston.

Though the City has received several federal grants, it is not clear that our lobbyist swayed any of those decisions. Still, when the City received the $18.1 million NSP grant, all the credit went to the community development division for its superb application, to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and to Senator Dick Durbin.

While having its own lobbyist in Washington may seem to give the City some cachet, we hope the Council and the residents can come up with more than $200,000 in benefits to the City from the lobbyists before we continue to engage them. After all, $200,000 can be put to work at home with almost immediate and demonstrable results for infrastructure and quality-of-life enhancements.

Unfortunately, it looks like the City may be required to make more cuts in personnel and services.

We all have to be patient and endure more hard times.

The first budget meeting is scheduled for March 22 in Council chambers of the Civic Center.

We encourage all members of the community to attend these meetings and to offer suggestions.

Setting the Record Straight

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz informed the RoundTable on March 21 that the City “”ended its contract with Holland and Knight for Federal Legislative Advocacy services as of February 28, 2011. “” Further, the cost of the contract for the year was $65,000.