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News of the City Manager’s proposed budget for 2019 eclipsed in some circles the consternation over national news and the buzz of the upcoming election.
The most unpopular proposals, judging only from comments at the recent City Council meeting and formal and informal conversations with residents, are those to close one fire station, to split the Youth and Young Adult Division (see separate stories), to eliminate cultural arts funding and to discontinue operations at Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center.
Several speakers at the Oct. 8 City Council meeting voiced opposition to the proposed elimination of cultural arts funding. The $175,000 that would be saved includes both the funding grants for several artists and arts organizations in Evanston and the salary of Cultural Arts Coordinator Jennifer Lasik.
Christina Ernst, Co-Artistic Director of the Evanston Dance Ensemble, said cutting funding for the arts is not acceptable in a community that wants to be healthy and balanced. “We all have different passions, and that is what makes a community vibrant,” she said. “I have seen so many people grow from having encounters with the arts in various ways.”
Jan Berkson, President of the Board of Directors of the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, said, “So many organizations in Evanston depend on arts funding. … Cutting the arts is a drastic and far-reaching mistake.”
Joan Gunzberg and Judy Kemp co-chaired EvanstARTS, the 2012 collaboration among the Evanston Arts Council, the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) and the City of Evanston. “We are certainly dismayed to see the cutting of funding for the arts. This impacts the community,” said Ms. Gunzberg.
“It is unacceptable to eliminate all funding for the arts,” Ms. Kemp said.
Lea Pinsky of Art Encounter said, “I am very concerned about the City’s plan to cut the arts funding. … Arts have put Evanston on the cultural map.” She and her husband, Dustin Harris, oversee the Evanston Mural Arts Program.
By email, the RoundTable asked the aldermen their positions on the proposed budget and what feedback they had received from constituents.
Alderman Eleanor Revelle said, “Safety was a big concern and thus [there was] strong support for keeping all five fire stations” at the City Manager’s informal discussion on Oct. 14 at Backlot Coffee. Several firefighters attended the meeting.
Ald. Revelle also said topics of concern were the high property taxes, proposed increases in fees and permits and proposed cuts to the Mental Health Board’s funding.
“These programs address problems at the front end through prevention and thus reduce the amount of money that needs to be spent later on police and the criminal justice system,” Ald. Revelle noted in her email response.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, reported similar concerns from his constituents. Some of the proposals “impact our most vulnerable citizens,” he said.
Ald. Braithwaite also said, “Some of the items [in the proposed budget] are a list of distractions and things that shouldn’t be on there.” He said residents and the Council should consider larger expense items such as the $7 million spent in legal fees and large insurance payouts in settlements of lawsuits brought against the City.
“Can we stagger the contributions to reserves? … Unfortunately, I have more questions than answers,” Ald. Braithwaite said.
The City’s proposal to cease operating the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, 1823 Church St., or to seek a private operator for it is the main concern Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons says she has heard from her constituents. “I share that concern,” she said.
“I’m disappointed that Gibbs-Morrison is the one park facility the City Manager selected, considering that its operating deficit is $160,000. Other facilities have greater deficits,” Ald. Rue Simmons said.
Ald. Rue Simmons said she is working on several new potential revenue streams. One example, she said, would be to charge for use of the Parks and Recreation Department’s “Let’s Play” trailer if it were to be used at private events. “We could attach some sort of a rental fee to that service,” she said.
Fifth Ward residents have also expressed concern about the proposal to split the Youth and Young Adult Division, separating the outreach from the employment program.
“I think it’s important that the message is clear that the services will not be eliminated,” Ald. Rue Simmons said. She also said she is hopeful about the outcome of the budget process.
“This is a proposed budget. I want everyone to be hopeful that we can work on solutions – be creative, be responsible and be respectful as we come up with our solutions.”
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz will formally present the budget to the City Council at its Oct. 22 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Oct. 27.
City Council has the ultimate authority to approve the budget. By State law, the City must pass a balanced budget by the beginning of the next fiscal year, which in Evanston is Jan. 1, 2019.