Evanstonians are invited this month to weigh in on two different matters that will affect their futures: next year’s City budget and 100 ideas garnered by Evanston150.

The City’s Budget

The City’s budget takes only about 20 percent of the property tax bill – about one-third the amount taken by the two School Districts. Nonetheless, the City budget has a communitywide pull: City officials have often said the budget is a statement of the community’s values.

The City Manager presented his tentative budget for fiscal year 2012 to the City Council last week, and it is now posted on the City’s website, www.cityofevanston.org for the public to read and inspect. As a proposal to the residents and the City Council, this tentative budget delineates the programs and services staff have concluded are optimal for operating the City without undue hardship to most residents – having assessed the feedback from the months-long “Engage Evanston” process.

Now comes the push-and-pull, as Council members, residents and staff work toward a combination of cuts and services, reductions and fees that most feel will best serve the community – the play of the dynamic tension among money, needs and wants.

The past few years have been almost indescribably difficult for children and for the families, schools, institutions and municipalities that endeavor to sustain them. Painful decisions have been made in the past and are likely to be made again this year. But to reverse them can also be painful, because creating the budget is virtually a zero-sum practice: If money is put back into a program, it will have to be taken out elsewhere, by either another cut or an increase in a tax, fee or fine.

Only a spirit of collaboration can mitigate this wretched process. Residents must be made to feel that, even if their needs are not met or even if a cherished program is reduced or eliminated, Council members are acting in good faith for the good of the community. It is incumbent upon the Council members and City staff, as it is upon everyone speaking formally or informally about the budget, to be clear and full in expressing their desires or opinions. Shortcuts – in explanation or in petition – too often lead to accusations, misunderstanding, bitterness or worse, and they end up distracting everyone from the task at hand.

Everyone is going to have to pay more this year, and, yes, everyone is going to have to do with less. And, yes, a lot of us are going to be angry and frustrated. Let’s face it, we need more money. So we suggest attending the workshops – there is one at 9 a.m. on Saturday in Council chambers – and continuing dialogues with City Council members and City staff.

If anyone, in exasperation, is thinking about occupying a street or plaza here, we have an alternative: Rather than taking to the street, take to a restaurant, a bar or a shop and gear up for next year by contributing to our sales tax revenues.

Evanston150

Anyone for whom the budget seems a bit grim for these dreamy fall days can saunter over to the Century Theatres complex, Evanston Township High School or St. Francis Hospital this weekend for a chance to think big without worrying about the price tag.

Evanston150 is a coalition of business and civic leaders who have asked us for the past few months to dream big. In anticipation of Evanston’s sesquicentennial in 2013, Evanston150 challenged the community to come up with 2,013 ideas for the future of the community. The myriad (well, not quite) ideas, now winnowed to 100, are ready for residents to vote on, in order to help select the top 30 ideas. These are the castles in the air: top-flight school districts, a walkable/bikeable City, thriving arts, culture and nightlife and the passive – or developed – lakefront. The ideas, which begin on the front page of this issue, have been ranked by the selection committee; some are repetitive, and some, contradictory. But they are there for the choosing.

Voting will be held this weekend, and the top 30 ideas then refined into 10. These 10 will be the basis of building the community in the next few years.

Evanston150 is not a strategic plan; it is not a City budget or an obligation to tax-payers. Right now it is a way to envision our future. We encourage residents to dream big and vote for 30 great ideas for Evanston’s future. After we have settled on 10 big ideas, we can work together so see who will pick up the tab.