More fodder for the budget debate

The Village of Niles this week published a document claiming to show that it has the lowest out-of-pocket costs for homeowners of any of 13 local communities checked. And, guess what, Evanston had the highest cost in the study.

The document is a bit curious, in that Niles claims to have received it from the City of Park Ridge, but we can't find the document on the Park Ridge city website.

Cost comparison published by Village of Niles

However it does do an interesting job of adding other costs like vehicle sticker fees, trash hauling costs and water and sewer charges into a discussion that usually is dominated by the property tax bill.

What we did find on the Park Ridge website was a different analysis, in the city manager's budget message, which claims that Niles spends more per capita than any other town in a nine community survey except Evanston.

Spending comparison published by Park Ridge

Wonder why Niles didn't trumpet that one?

Most such comparisons suffer a variety of flaws. For example, neither of these reports includes the cost of separate park districts. Most nearby communities have separate park districts with big budgets, while in Evanston most park programs are provided by the city itself and are included in the city budget.

In addition communities vary in the amount of commercial property they have that generates property tax revenue without burdening private homeowners and in the amount of sales tax revenue local retailers generate.

It remains to be seen what a comparison would look like that adjusted for those key factors.



Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Comparisons of how different communities raise revenue don't excite me very much because, as pointed out, there are many key adjustments that need to be made.

More interesting, and more likely to lead to change, are statistics about costs.

How long (or how much) does it take Evanston city crews to make one pass salting/plowing the entire City? Divide by the total number of miles in Evanston. How does this number compare with other towns?

How many acres of parkland and parkways does Evanston have? Divide by the number of Parks & Recreation employees involved with tree trimming, lawn mowing, etc. How does this statistic compare with surrounding Park Districts? How  many Full Time Equivalents are employed at Robert Crown Ice Rink? How many at the Skatium in Skokie? How many hours in the week are they rented/used?

How do the response times of police, fire and paramedical calls compare between surrounding towns? What about cops per crime per year?

Finally, Evanston prides itself on being a diverse, caring community. Evanston is one of very few communities that has its own health department. It oversees programs for affordable housing. Various Parks & Recreation programs are subsidized. Just how generous are we and how do we compare with surrounding communities?

These are the questions and statistics that the Mayor and Council should be considering. I hope that they and City staff could communicate these comparisons to the public. The current process of involving the public in the budgetary process has degenerated into a lobby popularity contest. (Vote "like" for the Ecology Center! Sign this petition for the branch libraries!)

True democracy rests on an informed citizenry. City staff have made improvements to its budgetary reporting. These difficult economic times demand more meaningful and informative statistics.

Health Department

"Evanston is one of very few communities that has its own health department"

Meanwhile, down in the wicked, sinful  city of Chicago,  where Towers are built and the Tilted Kilt opened up in the Loop, Rahm Emanuel and Toni Preckwinkle are considering merging Chicago's health department with that of Cook County - or at least consolidating duplicated services.  Enquiring minds want to know if the Evanston health department's functions can be merged with Cook County, Chicago, or both.

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