With a budget discussion that covered parliamentary procedure more than money, the City’s nine aldermen approved the City’s $218 million budget for fiscal year 2012. The increase in the City’s portion of the property tax bill is 4.91 percent; the City’s portion of the overall property tax bill is about 20 percent. Other increases will be seen in parking-meter rates, water rates, parking fines, charges for garbage pickups and for some recreation programs. No substantial changes were made to the budget since the Nov. 15 City Council meeting, at which most of the thorny issues appeared to have been resolved. (See sidebar for some highlights of the budget.)
Three aldermen – Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Donald Wilson, 4th Ward; and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward – voted against the budget. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she felt two of the fee increases in the budget were “regressive,” but she voted to approve it. She said she was troubled by “creeping increases” in charges for garbage pickup and water. “I feel like this is the worst budget …,” she said. “I worry about the community.”
Ald. Burrus said, while she appreciated the work of City staff, “I’m not going to approve this budget. I still don’t think we’re where we want to be. … I think taking $500,000 from operations for capital projects was the right way to go, [but] the revised projections for [revenue from] the real estate transfer tax are [inflated].” She also said she did not believe the projections for revenues from the increased charges for garbage pickups were accurate. Revised projections from City staff estimated that 10 percent of Evanston residents who use large garbage carts would swap them for the smaller ones. Ald. Burrus said she felt that figure was too low. “It’s going to be a miserable failure,” she said.
Ald. Fiske said she too was troubled by the budget. “I don’t think we as a Council agree on what economic development is. I see certain parts of one community that are benefitting and suffering as a result.” She also requested the reinstatement of a secretary position in the Forestry department. Procedurally this could be debated only if one of the aldermen who voted to eliminate the position would make a motion to reconsider that. None of her colleagues made the offer.
Ald. Wilson did not articulate his reasons at the Nov. 28 meeting; he told the RoundTable he felt he had made his concerns known at previous meetings. In the series of public meetings about the budget, he was among the most active alderman in proposing give-and-take scenarios to adjust both revenues and expenditures, rather than advocating solely for specific cuts or specific expenses.
“I didn’t agree with the revised projections in the real estate transfer tax,” Ald. Wilson said. He also said he “would have preferred that the increase in garbage pickup fees be adjusted proportionately” rather than the now-approved $1/month increase for small-cart pickups and the $4/month increase for large-cart pickups.” Finally, he said he remains troubled by “the future use of economic development funds.” Like Ald. Burrus, he said he agreed with the transfer of cash from operations to capital.
Alderman Jane Grover and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz tried to put a better face on the fruits of another lean economic year. Ald. Grover contrasted the collegiality and collaboration among the Council members and the City staff with the polarized and frozen supercommittee in Washington, D.C. that had been charged with trying to resolve national budget woes. “We are at every step of the way compromising,” she said.
Mr. Bobkiewicz recapped the budget process, which he said, “started back in March and involved the community. We have come a long way.” During his tenure as City Manager, he said, there have been 70 layoffs. “These are difficult decisions … but I want to let you know that the Department of Parks, Forestry and Community service [which lost a secretary] will rally to serve the residents of Evanston. … We are [always] looking at ways to be efficient, collaborate and work smarter.”
The City Manager also reminded the City Council that they had agreed to discuss within the next few weeks “efficiency and effectiveness of City services,” one of the Council’s goals.
Layoff, Transfer, Hike!Some aspects of the City’s budget for fiscal year 2012 are as follows:
• A net layoff of 7 full-time-equivalent employees;
• A transfer of $500,000 from operations to capital, thus reducing the amount of debt to be issued for capital projects next year;
• A $.25/hour hike in parking-meter rates throughout the City;
• Increases in some parking fines;
• A 5 percent hike in water rates;
• A $1/month hike in garbage pickup fees for small carts, and a $4/month increase for large carts.
Both water and refuse-and-recycling pickup fees appear on the water bill. The water-rate increase will be seen on bills issued Jan. 12. The refuse-fee change, effective Feb. 1, will appear on water bills sent out on March 1.