Consistently frustrated by a township budget laden with administrative fees and extraneous or duplicative expenses, City Council asked the legal department to tell them how to completely dissolve the Township of Evanston.
Unable to approve what they viewed as a problematic budget, aldermen then voted to fund the Township for 90 days while they consider eliminating it entirely and either taking over its functions or turning them over to Cook County or the State. The debate took place during the June 27 combined Council and Township meeting.
The frustration with the Township has been brewing among several members of Council for a number of months, particularly for those on the Human Services Committee.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said that she has been attempting to get answers on budget items since February. She cited as sticking points 22 workdays lost to “training” and conferences, administrative costs amounting to more than 36% of the total budget, three employees who have nothing to do with the delivery of the services the Township is charged with providing, an 8% increase in FY 2011-12 in administrative expenses, and a reserve fund of $1 million – enough to fund operations for a full year.
“I won’t support a motion to approve the budget,” she concluded. Instead of focusing on improving the budget she encouraged Council (sitting as trustees of the Township) to start “thinking about dissolving the Township. … Rather than parse the budget, I’d like us to think bigger.”
Ald. Grover then asked Grant Farrar, City Corporation Council and Town Attorney, to research what it would take to eliminate the Township entirely.
The Evanston Township is unusual in that it is coterminous with the City of Evanston. Most other townships encompass a number of municipalities. Niles township, for example, includes Skokie, Lincolnwood, Niles and Morton Grove. The Township is charged with two basic functions: the delivery of general assistance and the operation of the Township assessor’s office.
The annual budget exceeds $1.2 million; Evanston homeowners are assessed a separate Township levy on their real estate tax bills to pay for it. There are two elected Township officials: Supervisor Pat Vance and Assessor Bonnie Wilson.
“The Township is archaic and ought to be abolished,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. She said Ald. Grover was on the right track in calling for dissolution.
Supervisor Vance did not defend the Township on June 27, but she has previously pointed to state mandates requiring Township functions as a justification for her budget. According to budget documents, the Township provides assistance to 100 eligible clients or “wards” each month. Ms. Wilson said she was doing her best to make the Assessor’s Office better and that her office had saved taxpayers over $300,000. Neither responded directly to the call to eliminate the Township.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, asked Mr. Farrar how long it would take for Council to get an answer as to how to dissolve the Township.
The question “touches upon a whole host of statutes,” he said. “It’s going to require a very detailed analysis.” Council pressed for an answer by the next meeting but Mr. Farrar indicated that the research would take quite some time.
Meanwhile, as with the previous fiscal year, Council agreed to approve the Township’s budget for three months only, while it sorted through dissolution issues and how to address particularly troubling line items within the budget itself. Among the items targeted for revision was payroll processing, which City Manager Wally Bobkewicz said could be handled by the City at a fraction of the cost paid by the Township.
Ald. Burrus called the budget “outrageous.” Approving the budget would just “kick the can down the road,” she said. “At some point we have to say ‘no.’”
Ald. Rainey said both the Assessor’s Office and the Town office carried too many employees. “I think there are too many people employed in the Assessor’s Office,” she said, later adding, “The [Township] Supervisor’s office is way over-employed.”
Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, indicated concern with several items within the Township budget and urged the Town to use the coming three months to find economies of scale.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she had serious reservations about a particular line item, a 22 percent increase in the salary of the deputy assessor. She proposed an amendment that would slash the salary increase to 4%, to match the highest increase for City employees, but her amendment failed 6-3.
A Township meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 19, said Ald. Grover. Perhaps it will be the last. If not, then the Town’s budget for October through the end of March, its fiscal year-end, will have to be approved at that time.