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On Oct 4, the City of Evanston unveiled its proposed $317 million budget for fiscal year 2020.
Former City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz insisted on remaining in Evanston until late September so he could have a hand in crafting the budget for fiscal year 2020.
Taxpayers not only footed the bill for that extra month, but also have received a budget balanced with a 10% increase in the combined City and Library property tax levies. This will amount to an increase in the City’s portion of the property tax bill, which is approximately 20% of residents’ total property tax bill.
Evanstonians are not known to be shy in their reactions to City proposals. Some reactions from residents are predictable. When layoffs are proposed, some will rally to save jobs. If the workforce stands as is, some will demand that the Council look for efficiencies. We applaud both stances. Crafting a budget is a balancing act, and those are two reasonable considerations that must be weighed.
What is predictable from many members of the City Council, we regret to say, is an increasing distance from the real concerns and daily lives of residents. The idea that the budget expresses the values of the community is out the window. Balancing needs of residents has given way to trading power among Council members.
Council has already gone through the motions of the public hearing and totted up the numbers to make things work for what they have bought – such as the $9 million James Park lawsuit, other lawsuits against City personnel and departments and bonds for the new Robert Crown Center.
While we understand that some leeway should be granted to lawmakers, we feel that Council is going too far in its grab for money at the expense of residents. Recent examples are
• allowing private developers lease spaces in City-owned garages to their tenants and patrons without charging them a premium for this indulgence;
• increasing the parking rates with the window-dressing of a “convenient” (read: “will cost you more”) app that does nothing to mitigate the real message of “We’re such a cool community, we know the money and the headache are worth it.” While some residents and out-of-town patrons may buy it, our parking rates are unconscionably onerous. These rates really say, “We don’t think enough of our business-owners to make our town attractive. You go find a reason to make them jump an even higher hurdle to come to Evanston.”
We know that Council members are frustrated, too. They are frustrated at residents’ barbs and criticisms, and residents are frustrated with their actions.
Approving the budget, which will likely be a pro forma move with little meaningful debate, will not resolve anything.
Short of meaningful dialogue – something that Council and residents now seem incapable of – the only recourse is the ballot box. It is not too early to consider running for elected office.