The Evanston community has many strengths: an engaged community; an excellent educational system; dedicated non-profit organizations and volunteers; and a city government that is committed to providing a wide variety of services to the public. Evanston prides itself on its quality of life and the community’s commitment to programs and services that enhance our city.
The City of Evanston’s ability to continue providing a diverse array of services is in jeopardy because the revenues that the City currently collects cannot continue to support the existing level of services. The City faces the task of how to address its fiscal challenges without significantly impacting the variety and quality of services we provide. I believe we must look realistically at what are the most important services we provide and make sure that they are provided at the most exceptional level possible, and for those services or programs we cannot deliver at that level, I believe it appropriate to look to others to provide them.
The City will be launching an outreach effort to engage all Evanston residents in finding solutions to these issues. This effort, “Engage Evanston,” will be part of the City’s ongoing dialogue with residents on all issues facing the City. The City will focus its efforts May 1-7, to get ideas from residents on the budget. During this week, the City is asking residents to submit ideas to us by mail, email, telephone, Facebook, Twitter or in person on items we should consider while developing our 2012 budget priorities. The City will conduct a variety of outreach events including a public meeting at 7 p.m. on May 5 at the Civic Center.
at This City Council has made reductions of nearly $13 million since Fiscal Year 2008/09. These cuts have been difficult, but I do not believe they have had a substantial impact on the services we provide or to our quality of life. Looking to FY 2012 and 2013, I believe the City will continue to have deficits in the $1.5 to $2 million range and that there are no further service reductions that can be made that will not significantly impact services and quality of life.
The City has already raised property taxes for pension costs over the last few years, with no additional portion of the property tax going to general fund operations. We do not have the luxury to further increase the property tax (or any other tax) without increasing the flight of residents and businesses from Evanston; keeping and enhancing the current mix of residents and businesses is critical our future.
I believe the City needs to increase its investments in critical quality-of-life infrastructure (streets, parks and public facilities) without significantly adding to general obligation debt that we are already challenged to pay off. Part of a solution in funding capital is to shift some annual operating funds to capital projects as a permanent change in City spending.
Mayor Tisdahl and the Council have asked me to begin a complete review of all City services. This will include an evaluation of each service; the costs and revenues associated with them; and how it helps implement the goals of the City’s strategic plan and the Council’s goals. This evaluation would ultimately assign a numeric score to each service to help the Council prioritize services.
The ideas collected through the “Engage Evanston” process In May 2011 along with those from our 2010 efforts will be tallied and presented to the Council at a special meeting on May 16. Staff will work through the next several months gathering data and analyzing various options. Staff will then return to the Council in early August with the results of this work and begin developing options for consideration to balance the budget. There will be a second round of community outreach to receive input on these options in August and September. I will present my proposed FY 2012 City Budget to Mayor Tisdahl and the Council in early October. The Council will have budget hearings in late October through November, with adoption of the budget scheduled for just before Thanksgiving.
It will be difficult to develop consensus in the community on steps to be taken in order to balance the budget. However, opinions of all Evanstonians are important to help develop options for consideration. No single opinion or viewpoint creates a dialogue. Many voices help create a meaningful dialogue that can lead to the valuable input the Mayor and City Council need to help inform their decision-making.
I encourage all Evanston residents to be involved in these budget discussions over the next several months in whatever manner possible, to help shape the difficult quality-of-life decisions that face our community in the months and years ahead.