Selling beer on the streets and outsourcing some City services seemed to be the parameters of a wide-open budget discussion at the Aug. 8 City Council meeting.

With the projected gap in operating expenses for next year now at $2.1 million – up from $1.4 million just weeks ago – City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz again seeks to engage Evanston in the budget conversation. That conversation will be wider than the projected gap in operating expenses, because Mr. Bobkiewicz would like to have an additional $2 million in the General Fund (the City’s main operating budget) to pay for some capital expenditures. A “pay-as-you-go” plan to pay for capital expenditures out of operating funds, he said, would help keep the City’s debt down, since such expenditures would essentially be paid in cash.

Thus the total amount of cuts and new or increased revenues for the next fiscal year would be slightly more than $4 million. This assumes the City will follow through on Mr. Bobkiewicz’s proposal to spend $2 million of operating funds for capital programs and to use any property tax increase only for the contributions to the firefighters and police pension funds.

Following City policy and City Council direction, City staff members are hammering out a framework for budget deliberations both among residents and among City Council members: priority-based budgeting.

City staff is evaluating each of the 96 services the City provides – “Everything is on the table,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz.

Evaluation, Outsourcing and Consolidation

Evaluation of these priorities is new for the City of Evanston, said Assistant City Manager Martin Lyons. “Some of the proposed changes have caused community dialogue, and to that I say, ‘Hurray,’” he added.

Mr. Lyons and Administrative Services Director Joellen Earl presented proposed service changes clustered under the headings “pursue,” “investigate further” and “do not pursue.” Among the items in the “pursue” category are the “proper classifications” and “salary and benefits models” for all employees, a review of the fees charged for all services, enforcement of all ordinances in the City code, increasing collections of money owed to the City, investigating whether the City can share its services with adjacent municipalities, and “rethinking” the City’s minority- and woman-owned or Evanston-based business (W/W/EBE) program, its community health initiatives and its emergency housing programs.

Some of these proposed changes, if implemented, could result in potential savings or new revenues. As examples, the City estimates that $350,000-$400,000 could be saved if the proper classification/salary and benefits model were implemented. Increasing collections shows a potential revenue enhancement of $250,000-$300,000, according to the City.

Talks are ongoing about the future use of the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, another item to be pursued.

City staff will take a further look at items in the “investigate” category. These include the use of funds from the tax-increment financing (TIF) districts, what would be needed to attain the City Council’s objectives for youth services, and the City’s street-maintenance, street-sweeping and refuse, recycling and yard-waste programs. The City would analyze whether to outsource these services or to “in-source” them, that is, offer to have Evanston crews provide such services to adjacent municipalities for a fee.

Several speakers at the Aug. 8 City Council meeting spoke against outsourcing City services.

Elliott Zashin said he was concerned that the City might “move more hastily toward privatization,” which, he said, would entail giving up “quality control” and “institutional learning.”

City worker Dave Matusek said “[sanitation workers, who also drive snow plows] have saved the City well over $4 million in the last year,” as a result of contract negotiations. With outsourcing, he said, “You lose power, control and flexibility, and you will lose money. … We have been loyal workers. … My question is, ‘Where does your loyalty lie?’”

Shawn Teske, another City worker, referred to the City’s goal of making Evanston “the most livable city in America. … How will you do that if you take away the services the people need?”

Beer at the Edge of the Parks?

One item that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz had removed from discussion bubbled up again at the end of the budget discussion: selling alcohol in parks. Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he is “not opposed to looking at increased alcohol sales.”

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “As the [local] liquor commissioner, I am not opposed to sales inside but am opposed to sales in the parks.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said that, with the increase in the number of food trucks at parks and festivals such as those this year at Grey Park and Brummel Park, a beer truck might “not sound unreasonable. Beer would be sold … on the City street – such as at the Custer Street Fair. I don’t think we should sell beer in the park, but I don’t have a problem selling beer at the curb and then walking to the park.”

Budget Schedule

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that by Aug. 22 information about City services and other budget materials will be available on the City’s website, www.cityofevanston.org. Residents will be able to vote “”thumbs up”” or “”thumbs down”” on retaining or eliminating certain City services on the website or call 311 to register their opinions.

   Sept. 17: Citizen Budget Input Session, 9 a.m. – Noon, Robert Crown Center, 1701 Main St. 

   Sept. 22: Citizen Budget Input Session, 7-9 p.m., Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. 

  Oct. 15 and 29: Special City Council meetings, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Morton Civic Center

  Nov. 16: Special City Council meeting, 7 p.m., Morton Civic Center

By law City Council must pass a balanced budget by the end of the current fiscal year, Dec. 31.