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In a budget update at the June 22 Council meeting, City officials have revised the estimated shortfall the City will be facing because of reduced revenues during the Coronavirus to over $12 million.
One of the biggest losses could occur in the athletic contest tax, where officials are projecting a possible decrease of $664,000.
“This contemplates no sales of tickets for Northwestern football games, a conservative estimate as the University continues to develop plans for the football season,” said Hitesh Dasai, the City’s Chief Financial Officer, in a memo.
Some of the other big losses are connected to social activities affected by the social distancing requirements under the Coronavirus and Governor’s shelter-at-home directive in March.
They include the following:
- The municipal hotel tax, down $424,011, based on actual receipts through May. Staff projects a loss of 67% compared to that budgeted, “due to complete closure of many hotels for multiple months and expected low demand through the year”;
- Parking tax, down $320,00. The projected loss there is 30% from the amount budgeted due to continued low occupancy of downtown parking garages and lots; and
- Parking tickets, estimate decreased by $221,479. Staff projects loss of 33% as compared to budget.
Some areas are doing better than expected, such as the liquor tax, which is now projected to fall just 12.66% below budget. “This is due to increased purchases of package liquor, offsetting the losses from restaurants and bar closures,” Mr. Desai noted.
Aldermen renewed the debate about how much the City should be involved in protecting the community’s schoolchildren. They have engaged in a tug of war over the years with the City’s two school districts on which entity picks up costs on shared services, such as police resource officers in the schools and crossing guards.
That may become an even more intense debate this coming budget season with a segment of Evanston citizens pushing for defunding of the Evanston Police Department, and aldermen facing their own challenge – looking for cuts to bring a Coronavirus-fueled shortfall estimated at more than $12 million into line.
Addressing the Council June 22, Laura Tataille, one of the co-organizers of Defund EPD (Evanston Police Department), urged City Council members to pull School Resource officers out of Evanston Township High School.
An online petition backed by defunding advocates maintains that School Resource Officers (SROs) “perpetuate cycles of punishment and surveillance that threaten the well-being and success of Black students. Furthermore they serve virtually no purpose in D202 as the school already pays for tens of safety officers.”
The school and City have argued the opposite in the past, with police officers seen as putting a human side for the department in the school setting and working to defuse situations outside the criminal justice system.
In a budget discussion later at the same meeting, several aldermen signaled they are interested in looking at the issue, with a full discussion of the police budget scheduled for July 27.
“If the schools want the police in their schools, perhaps they should take it on as a budget item,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.
She maintained also that aldermen need to reappraise the crossing-guard program, operated by the City.
“This is a $500,000 item in our budget this year,” she said, “and a $500,000-plus item in our budget next year, and I’m wondering why we haven’t brought that up as an item to remove from our budget going forward.”
Currently, the City’s private schools contribute to the crossing guards, and District 202 pays the full cost for the program, said Interim City Manager Erika Storlie, in response to a question about the program’s funding.
Ald. Rainey noted that in the past, “there’s been back-and-forth among aldermen about, ‘Why do we pay for crossing guards? Why do we pay for police in schools? And I’m thinking, you know, that issue is becoming more to the fore as we discuss other issues about police.”
On the School Resource Officers, Ald. Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said “it would be good to know what their (the schools) intentions are.”
“If they don’t intend to continue to have officers at the schools, we should definitely take a look at this,” he said. “And it sounds like there is consideration of removing that request that we have these officers available, so I’d like to know what their intentions are.”
While both School Districts last year discussed the role school resource officers, there has been no vote to exclude them from either District 65 or District 202. ON April 8, 2019, the District 202 School Board unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Evanston that covered, among other matters, the continued deployment of School Resource Officers (SROs) to Evanston Township High School. A few months later, on Oct. 7, 2019, the Policy Committee of the District 65 School Board discussed proposed changes to the role of School Resource Officers in the schools.
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