An article reporting that City Council had passed a measure requiring citizens to purchase snow removal stickers if they wished their street plowed appeared in our March 30 edition. In keeping with a tradition here at the RoundTable, it was an April Fool joke. The City did not pass, and to the best of our knowledge has never considered passing, such an ordinance.
Although the article contained several clues indicating that it was fictional, a number of readers believed the article to be true. The City received a few extra calls at its new 311 center, we fielded dozens of calls here at the RoundTable, and Chicago and national media ran with the story of the story. Most people got the joke, many others laughed when informed that it was a joke, and others grinned through gritted teeth
Still others were angry either with us or the City. To those who were angered, and to those at the City who had to respond to angry residents, we apologize. When satire edges too close to the truth, it can strike a nerve; and that is apparently what happened.
The fake article opens with an ominous truth: The City does indeed face a budget crisis. Readers added another stark truth: Residents are angry. Many feel they are being nickel-and-dimed, that their quality of life is being eroded by whim rather than reason.
The City has added fees over the years for activities that many citizens feel should not cost them anything beyond the taxes and fees that already burden our daily lives. There is a fee to own a dog, walk on the beach, dispose of raked leaves, rent out a room in one’s home.
Parking in Evanston is notoriously unpleasant – and that is on top of the required City sticker. Sales tax is at 10 percent. Opening a business can require numerous fees and permits, meetings and bureaucracy, and perhaps ordinance changes. At the same time, it is no secret that expenditures at the City continue to outpace revenues. Our infrastructure is in serious need of repair, but our debt ratio is so high that the City manager advises using operating expenses for some capital improvements. Doing so, of course, leaves us less money for the City services we need to maintain a decent way to live for all residents of Evanston.
The City can learn a lesson from the residents’ anger. The fact that people could believe the snow-sticker story to be true shows that people believe that nothing is off the table and that the City is willing to charge for anything and everything, so the way to solve our budget problem may not be to pile fee upon fee.
The City Council has said it will raise taxes but only to cover the cost of contributions to the firefighters and police pension funds. While that must be done, there is a growing frustration that there is less and less to show for the already high taxes we pay here.
Yet that is only one side of the story. We understand – and we know that the City Council understands – that many are struggling to stay here. Taxes, water bills, sewer bills, refuse and recycling fees on top of day-to-day expenses – everything mounts up.
As a community, we can expect little help from the state.
In short, we face challenges ahead. The only way to make it through another year of austerity is by trusting each other – residents and City. Residents already show a sign of good faith by attending and speaking at Council meetings, and Council members do their best to be attentive to constituents’ concerns.
Let’s not let these good things get lost in a shuffle of numbers and rhetoric as we proceed toward fiscal year 2012.