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Evanston officials, now deep in their budget process, have not been using the word “defunding” much, but a number of the cost-saving proposals on the table are aimed squarely at the Evanston Police Department.
Early on, officials had left open the status of 11 vacant positions in the Department.
In recent presentations, City officials talk has shifted with the positions being targeted for elimination.
With four other department positions included, officials are estimating a savings of $1.2 million.
At the Nov. 9 City Council meeting, City Manager Erika Storlie told aldermen officials are looking carefully at how the department will cover calls in the future.
“I think we’re being very strategic. We’re being very thoughtful,” Ms. Storlie said. “We’re looking at all the best practices, and we’re trying to devise a plan that is right for Evanston. So while we have made some significant reductions in the Police Department’s budget for 2021, I think you’ll see additional reductions to the budget in 2022.”
Police officials have not responded. In testimony before the Council’s Human Services Committee in September, Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook said that the number of officers had dropped from 169 when he started in the department a year-and-a-half ago to 149 (with 11 vacancies).
He ticked off some of the department’s responsibilities – Metra, the CTA, Northwestern (before the demonstrations), the state’s second largest water plant, the elementary school system as well as one of the largest high schools in the state.
“It’s a lot of things that we have to cover with the limited resources that we already have,” he told the Committee.
Along with manpower, aldermen are pressing police in other ways to balance the budget and avoid the tax increase City staff has put on the table, estimated to bring in over $3 million.
Under the proposed tax increase, now at 4.5% for the City’s portion of the tax bill, officials estimate the owner of a home valued at $400,000 would pay an additional $95.06 annually if the hike were to hold up.
The increase, though, comes on top of other fees the City charges, and is in combination with what other taxing bodies are asking in a pandemic year.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, announced that she would not be supporting the contribution to the police and fire pension funds that staff was recommending in the budget – around $11 million alone for police.
The Board of Trustees of the Evanston Police Pension Fund has set the amount higher, at roughly $12.1 million, using a lower projected investment return than that used by the City.
If the City did not allocate the additional dollars staff recommended, “we’re still at about 1.7 or 1.8 percent over the State minimum,” Ald. Fleming said. “I realize that the State minimum is nowhere near ideal. But, again, we’re asking people who might be having a very hard time financially, and maybe don’t even have a job to pay, ‘quote-unquote’ extra for the pension service. And we, as far as I know, don’t have any retired police or [firefighters] who are not receiving their pension payments. So, you know, I’m not sure this is the best year to be going above and beyond.”
Some other aldermen, on the Council longer than Ald. Fleming, in her first term, cautioned about moves in that direction. The Evanston Fire and Police Pension funds were at one time among the lowest in the state, with the liability hitting $145 million.
“I do have a lot of reservations about the pension contributions,” said Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, requesting a more detailed breakdown from staff.
“I feel like our levy right now, the police levy is roughly 50-to-60%. That is because we’re trying to make for the fact that that it wasn’t properly funded, in the first instance, over a period of years. So I don’t want to compound that any worse than it is.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she had the same concern as Ald. Wilson, but pointed out that “we have padded the number from the auditors every single year – we’ve gone over even what some other aldermen have wanted. ‘
She indicated that she would support deviating one year – “and this is definitely a year unlike any other.”
She recommended that the City reduce by $1 million the amount staff was recommending be allocated.
Ald. Rainey, the senior aldermen on the Council, also called out police for not agreeing to salary concessions as the City’s other unions have done.
The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, which represents close to 180 Evanston Police Department employees, broke off talks last month, with the City not responding to a counter proposal from the union, for officers to work longer shifts, saving in overtime costs.
City officials continue to stick to zero-percent salary increase for 2021 and 2022 (after pressing employees for a zero-percent hike before the pandemic because of the City’s financial condition).
Ald. Rainey requested a communication from police to the Council on “what they plan on doing [to help] us out here.
“I mean, it’s always private conversations between lawyers and City Managers, and we’re never involved in it, and we’re always told what the outcome is,” she said. “I think they ought to know that we want to know what they are going to give up, or help us out with. I can tell you at least one alderman would like to know, ‘What is the thinking?’ And what is it taking them so long?”
Evanston City Council members are scheduled to meet in a special budget session scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 16.
The meeting, which will be held remotely, can be viewed in line at cityofevanston.org/channel16.