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The RoundTable regularly reports that City staff and the City Council consider the City to be in the midst of a budget crisis, requiring either a serious cut to services or a significant increase in revenue, with the most likely potential source of additional revenue an increase in property taxes. Sensing the lack of capacity to absorb another large tax increase, particularly on the heels of the School District 65 referendum that raised property taxes by almost 6%, City Council and staff have for months talked about service cuts.

The latest effort is perhaps the most wide-reaching yet, as staff presented the initial results of a Priority Based Budgeting session undertaken by a committee composed of management-, but not director- level City staff that ranked and prioritized City programs.

Staff identified all programs and services provided by the City. The list stretched to 152. In evaluating those 152 programs and services, staff used “two sets of measures,” said Senior Management Analyst Kate Lewis-Lankin. First, staff “captured metrics including whether a program was mandated to be provided by the State or federal government and its level of cost recovery,” i.e. whether the program paid for itself or at least came close. Second, staff held each program up to stated City Council goals.

Evanston’s committee worked with the City staff of Boise, Idaho, a city apparently in the midst of a similar exercise.

Each program or service was assigned a score by the staff committee. About half were pulled from the list, either because they are essential, such as police and fire services, or because they pay for themselves, such as parking enforcement or the administration of federal grants.

Another 24 programs were identified for “right-sizing,” meaning they are programs for which increased fees or other tweaks could push them onto the “safe” list.

That left “54 programs not required” by any other government entity and “on the bottom half of the staff list” after meetings and rankings, according to the described metrics. (See sidebar for the list of programs on the chopping block.)

The City now plans to place the resulting list in the hands of the public. Using a survey available online, in paper, and by phone via 311, as well as a budget workshop scheduled for May 24, the City is asking residents to pick from the 54 lowest-scoring City services and programs and create two lists: 10 that should be kept at all costs, and 10 that residents are willing to see eliminated, because such services are available elsewhere or simply should not be a priority.

The list provided at the April 30 City Council meeting did not include any reference to the cost of programs or the savings that could result. “There will be costs” added before the survey goes live, which is anticipated to be May 10, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asked if the City would consider splitting off the City’s parks department and to form a separate government entity that would own and manage the parks, with taxing authority. She did not receive any support.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, asked for a memo from Equity and Empowerment Coordinator Patricia Efiom explaining how “an equity lens was used in the process” of identifying programs.

Overall, everyone seemed to focus on the data used. Residents and aldermen need “more information if we’re asking people to rank things,” said Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward. People need to know how much money, and as a result how much tax burden could be avoided, by cutting a program.

At the request of Ald. Fiske, the survey process will extend into June, and results will be presented to Council during its June 18 meeting.

PRCS*: City-Sponsored Special Events

CD*: Contractor Licensing

PRCS: Athletic programming

Health: Community Health

PRCS: Summer Food Program/Child Nutrition Program/Congregate Meal Program

CD: Divvy Bikes

PRCS: Community Services/Youth Engagement

PRCS: Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center

PRCS: Noyes Cultural Arts Center

PRCS: Indoor/Outdoor Recreation Programs

PRCS: Summer Camps

PWA*: Sports Field Maintenance

PRCS: Special Recreation Programs

CD: Long-range planning (comprehensive plan, area plans)

PRCS: Cultural Arts Programs

PWA: Special Assessment Alley Improvements

CD: Storefront Modernization Program

PRCS: Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater

PWA:Tree Preservation Permit Issuance and Enforcement

CD: Business Licensing

PWA: 50/50 Sidewalk Program

PRCS: Certificate of Rehab Programs

CMO*: Tax Assessment Advocacy

PWA: Special Refuse Pickups

PWA: Permits for Block Parties, Moving Vans and Dumpsters

CMO: Administrative Adjudication

CD: Sign Permits and Inspection Services

Fire: Public Education/Community Engagement

PRCS: Recreation Center Bus Program

AS*: School Crossing Guards

Health: Vital Records – Birth and Death Certificates

PWA: Lakefront and Beach Maintenance and Cleaning

CMO: Community Arts Administration

CMO: Revenue and Collections – Passport

PWA: Annual Dredging for Boat Launch and Harbor

PWA: Twice Annual Bulk Pickups

PWA: Business District and Park Refuse Pickup and Disposal

Health: Social Services (Victim Advocacy)

CD: Historic Preservation Review

PWA: Dutch Elm Disease Control

CD: Mental Health Board

PWA: Public Art Installation Support

AS: Human Resources – Training

PWA: Special Event Support

PRCS: Subsidized Taxi Cab Coupon Program

CMO: Boards, commission, and committee administration by resolution/ordinance

PWA: Engineering for Parks and Facilities Projects

CMO: Revenue and Collections – Real Estate Transfer Stamps

CMO: Revenue and Collections – Wheel Tax

PWA: Bike Infrastructure Maintenance

PWA: Tree Trimming, Removal and Planting, and Evaluations

Police: Police Building maintenance

PWA: Playground Equipment Maintenance and Repairs

Health: Vacation Rental Permit and Administration (Airbnb)

*Parks, Recreation and Community Service – Community Development – City Manager’s Office – Public Works Administration – Administrative Services