Faced with a June deadline to pass Evanston Township’s budget, the Human Services Committee put off the final decision for a month amid concerns over high administrative costs and insufficient time to review the numbers. In the next few weeks, committee members will issue written questions to Township officials and review their answers before the June 6 Human Services Committee meeting.
Evanston is unusual in Illinois in that the Township’s boundaries are coterminous with the City’s. City Council members sit as trustees of the Township, and Council must approve the Township’s annual budget and its expenditures along the way.
The Township’s primary function is to administer and distribute general assistance (GA) funds to those demonstrating need in the community. It is the administration of GA funds that caught the eye of Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward. “I’ve run the numbers [and] it looks like 55 percent of staff time is spent on administrative tasks, which seems like a lot of time,” she said. She said that she was “uncomfortable” with the budget and could not support it without more information.
The Township caseload currently stands at 102 clients, but the budget anticipates about 100 cases per month, said Township Supervisor Patricia Vance. The Township’s executive director, Rosemary Jean-Paul, said each case required staff time to interview, fill out forms and complete the application. She estimated some cases took more than an hour to process. “Extensive case management is what we do,” she said. Case management accounts for the high administrative time, she said.
Ald. Grover also cited the high rent cost, about $100,000, and high personnel costs, with four employees costing between $67,000 and $95,000 each when benefits are included. Ms. Vance, an elected official, defended the salaries calling them “in line” with, and “in the middle” of, those for similar organizations across the state. “Not the low end, maybe in the middle,” she said.
Personnel costs for the Township Assessor’s office also concerned the Committee. “I certainly would not support that,” said Alderman Delores Homes, 5th Ward, of a proposed 15 percent salary increase for the deputy assessor, from $45,000 to $53,000.
Human Services Committee chair, Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam said he simply had not had enough time to review the document. Ald. Grover said, “We need this budget to be revised in some ways,” and added that it seemed “top-heavy” with salaries and administrative costs. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, suggested that the committee propose written questions similar to the method used for review of the City’s bills at the Administration and Public Works committee. Ald. Tendam readily agreed and moved to hold the budget in committee, while more questions are asked and answered.
Ald. Holmes said she hoped to avoid the scenario that resulted last year, when the Council refused to approve the budget by the deadline and was forced to pass temporary month-to-month budgets based upon the previous year’s appropriations until an acceptable budget emerged. There is still time this year, but only one more Human Services meeting.