Again this year, the City Manager is inviting residents to weigh in on the upcoming budget. That money is tight is scarcely new; services and programs are likely to be trimmed, and residents can expect an increase in the City’s portion of the property tax and can anticipate, this year or next, an increase in the water rate.
What makes the budgeting process so difficult year after year is that the low-hanging fruit has long been picked. We are cutting at the bone, and this is painful both for the decision-makers and for those who must live with these cuts. Regrettably, stressful times like these can be Petri dishes of distrust, suspicion and accusation. Residents may wonder why some programs are spared, some created and others cut. And such questions are reasonable, even if some may feel that they are asked stridently or persistently.
City officials may wonder conversly, why their messages are not being heard.
This has happened in past years and is likely to happen again this year. It is the nature of activism. It is the nature of Evanston.
The push-and-pull of participatory democracy is likely to be in panoply in the coming weeks.
We applaud this, and we encourage residents, as they present their wishes and concerns, to voice them in way that push the dialogue forward.
It is easy to say, “don’t cut this,” but with a little more reflections, “don’t cut” might become “let’s replace,” or “let’s consolidate,” or, at worst, “let’s defer.”
After residents’ participation, representative democracy takes over. Our elected representatives will make the decisions they believe to be best for the entire community.
This two-part process requires mutual trust. Residents will have to trust the City official, both elected and appointed, will listen to them. And the Mayor, the City Manager, the aldermen and City staff must make intentional and visible efforts, collectively and individually, to earn that trust.