FirstNight Evanston’s request for $5,000 from the City resulted in attacks on the organization’s budget before City Council ultimately voted to grant the funding. Council support for the event itself overcame any doubts as to the budget, however, and the measure passed with only one “no” vote.
The budget of FirstNight, the alcohol-free, family-oriented New Year’s Eve party in downtown Evanston, jumped from $75,000 in 2013 to about $140,000 in 2014, according to information provided to the Council at its Dec. 8 meeting. Spokesperson Stuart Rosenberg said the bulk of that increase comes from the “quality of talent” performing. “We are paying artists much more this year,” he said.
The $5,000 grant request is earmarked for free tickets (“buttons”) to be distributed to “several service agencies,” including PEER Services, Center for Independent Futures, Housing Options, Youth Job Center and Head Start. “We are asking the City to grant us [$5,000] to defray these costs,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
“I support funding for this purpose,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward. Distributing buttons gets “more people to participate, as broad-based as possible,” she said.
But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, objected to the characterization of the request. “The value of the button is the cost to produce it,” she said. “It costs you noting for me to come to First Night… If you need $5,000 to support the event, just say so.” She said she supported such a request, just not the stated purpose of the grant.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, a self-described “budget hawk,” attacked the budget relentlessly. “There’s just not a lot of detail,” she said, accusing First Night of misrepresentation and a “faulty” budget. She attacked line items covering City services, even though those services are largely provided at no cost.
“I don’t think they’ve misrepresented anything, so I will be voting for it,” said Alderman Don Wilson. 4th Ward, pointing out that the “City Services” line item was for $500 of more than $42,000 in expenses.
“I don’t think they were misrepresenting anything,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, adding that she just thought they did not know what they were doing. She called the budget “embarrassing,” but said she would vote for the $5,000 grant to support the event anyway.
“We’ll tighten up the numbers and move forward,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward. The measure is going to pass, so Council should quickly vote, “so ‘fa la la la la.’”
First Night, headlined by Regina Carter’s Southern Comfort, takes over several downtown venues on New Year’s Eve. Buttons cost $20 for adults, $10 for youths, and are free for kids 7 and under.