Last week, the City Manager presented his proposed budget for the City’s 2014 fiscal year, and City Council will likely approve a balanced budget based on that framework in late November. That leaves a little more than 30 days for those who are uncomfortable with any part of the budget to propose changes.
City administrators made an effort again this year to engage residents in the budget process, and we applaud them for that. Things change, however, once the tentative budget comes out and residents are able to see how they will be affected.
Thus, we encourage people to study the budget documents, attend or watch meetings and talk with Council members and City administrators about how the proposed $252 million will be spent. In the past, City officials have asked that anyone who proposes a spending increase also propose a counterbalancing decrease.
While this idea has merit, we do not wholly endorse it for two reasons. First, City staff members and department heads are much more familiar with costs and expenditures, projections and estimates than are typical Evanston residents. Second, while it might be nice for residents wishing for more spending in a certain area to suggest a place to look for cuts, this could backfire, and residents might feel they have to oust a program.
All City services benefit all residents – some more immediately or straightforwardly than others, so asking residents to pit program against program may be counter-productive.
We, for example, would like to see additional funding for mental health and social services. At Monday’s City Council meeting, Alison Stark, Chair of the Mental Health Board noted about a 50 percent discrepancy between the amount approved for such services by the City’s Human Services Committee and the amount proposed in the budget. The difference is just under $500,000. Two aldermen also objected to the proposed increases in garbage-collection and yard-waste collection fees and yard-waste stickers and the 10 percent increase in water rates.
In years past, aldermen used to say that the City’s budget is a statement of the values of the community. While we have not heard that sentiment expressed by this Council, we are sure that they understand the needs and desires of the community. Conversely, we trust that Council members and City administrators will be open to suggestions from the public.
We feel sure that, with support from aldermen and residents, these steep burdens – some of them on Evanston’s most vulnerable residents – can be eased.
Let’s all get to work on that.