City staff members have been fine-tuning the City’s budget for fiscal year 2015 in anticipation that City Council will approve it on Nov. 24. By law, the City must approve a balanced budget by the beginning of the new fiscal year, Jan. 1, 2015.

With a few internal tweaks, the $225.4 million budget, excluding inter-fund transfers, is essentially the same as what was presented to the public in early October: It anticipates a 2.2% increase in overall expenditures and is balanced, among other ways, by a 10% increase in the water rate (see accompanying story), a new car-rental fee and a 1.2% increase in the City’s portion of the property tax. The City’s portion is about 20% of the overall tax bill. (See budget story in Oct. 23 issue of the RoundTable or online at evanstonroundtable.com.)

At the Nov. 17 City Council meeting, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz announced some changes that resulted from earlier concerns expressed by Council members.

The City will not close the Vital Records office but will retain one staff member and transfer the other to the General Assistance department. The Public Works Department will receive an additional $10,000 for proper, weather-appropriate uniforms for its personnel. Using monies available in the present budget, the City will spend another $350,000 for street paving once construction season begins again. That amount will cover about a half-mile of paving.

All City departments were requested to decrease their budgets by 3% from the present year. That was accomplished without the loss of personnel.

During the budget process, nothing changed with the pension contributions. Contributions remain at $6,214,928 to the firefighters pension fund and $8,705,207 to the police officers pension fund. In the aggregate, those amounts are $4.3 million above the minimum contribution required by the State of Illinois, according to a staff budget memo.

Saying she was speaking for Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam, who could not attend the Council meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl asked to know “the cost of a crossing guard for Willard School.” Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she would like to know the cost of a crossing guard at Lincoln School.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, asked, “Are we ever going to discuss having schools share the cost of crossing guards?”

Mr. Bobkiewicz said he had had a discussion on several matters with Dr. Paul Goren, the new superintendent of District 65. He said the discussion was productive, but Mayor Tisdahl said such discussions have been held intermittently and with no results [for the City] since she was an alderman several years ago.

The Library Fund, a separate budget item subject only to approval, not change, by the Council, is increased this year by about $720,000. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said previously that she supported the Library in its request for additional funding. At the Nov. 17 Council meeting, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she would “under no circumstances support an 11% increase in the Library budget. It is irresponsible. … I know little children love to read, and I hope that moms don’t [show] up here on the night of the budget [to support the Library].”

Ald. Rainey said appreciated the budget memos – so far, 73 pages of them – that staff prepared in response to concerns expressed by Council members.

Saying she also appreciated the clarity and depth of the budget memos, Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she felt the expenses at the animal shelter, as described in the Nov. 10 budget memo, had become excessive since the City separated from the Community Animal Rescue Effort (CARE) an all-volunteer organization that had managed the shelter for many years.

“[The memo] points out for me the need for some kind of fund-raising,” said Ald. Grover. “We should talk about how we manage and operate the animal shelter – and have the community pick up some of these costs.” She added that the Animal Control Board “may issue a request for proposal for volunteer organizations to operation and maintain the shelter.”

Mr. Bobkiewicz told the Council members, “We will prepare documents for you to adopt the budget next week.” The Council meeting is scheduled to begin at the usual time, 15 minutes after the end of the Planning and Development Committee. The P&D Committee is scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m.