So smooth was the Nov. 10 budget meeting that, at the City Manager’s suggestion, City Council members cancelled the Nov. 13 and Nov. 19 budget meetings and seemed prepared to approve the budget for fiscal year 2013 at their Nov. 26 meeting.
The $248 million budget is balanced with some new and some increased fees but with no increase in the City’s portion of the property tax. A 3 percent water-rate hike is scheduled for July of next year.
Only one person spoke at the public hearing on the budget, which, along with a truth-in-taxation hearing at which no one spoke, preceded Council’s deliberations at the Saturday morning meeting.
Richard Lanyon, chair of the Utilities Commission, spoke in favor of the proposed $6 million capital improvement program, which he said would provide needed maintenance, repair and replacement of the City’s water and sewer infrastructure.
The Utilities Commission, he said, “highly encourages City Council to continue investing in renewing the City’s aging sewer and water infrastructure,” replacing 100-year-old water mains, rehabbing the dilapidating sewers and maintaining the water-utility infrastructure and improving the treatment plant to “comply with federal and state regulations and provide a safe, reliable and effectively functioning” water system.
The Utilities Commission also supported the July water-rate hike as “necessary for funding for the [needed] capital repairs.”
Only a few changes were made at the Nov. 10 meeting. One was the withdrawal of the proposed position for a crisis intervention coordinator in the Health Department. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who had proposed the position, recommended that it be withdrawn and that the funds remain under the City Manager’s purview. He said that since the proposal had been made known, two local organizations had expressed interest in helping provide the service. He said he would talk with members of the City’s Mental Health Board and representatives of the two organizations, Presence St. Francis and Youth Organizations Umbrella.
Aldermen also approved funds for additional security along Dodge Avenue, a request from Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon passed along to the Council by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.
Additional security cameras would be provided at Dempster, Lake, Church and Lyons streets from funds in next year’s budget, unless the funds could be found to install the security cameras this year, incorporating them into the police security-camera system.
City staff will work out a funding plan for additional lighting along Church Street both east and west of Dodge Avenue and present it to the City Council in January.
New in the budget this year is a set of performance review standards for City staff. Mr. Bobkiewicz said the standards are designed to assess the efficiency of City services and provide transparency in government.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, applauded the measure and said, that when constituents ask how the City is spending the taxpayers’ money, “We have something to point to.”
A five-page memo from Chief Financial Officer Martin Lyons, responding to a request from Mayor Tisdahl, said that the police officers pension fund would be 50 percent funded by 2016 and the firefighters pension fund by 2017.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, cautioned that these were only estimates. “We’ve made several assumptions,” she said. “Some of them are quite simplified and not actuarially solid. That concept is embedded in [Mr. Lyons’s] memo.”
By law, City Council must approve a balanced budget by Jan. 1, 2013, the beginning of the next fiscal year.