At a special City Council meeting this week Evanston aldermen tried to come up with ideas for how to improve the community without having to raise taxes.
Consultant Jean Bonander, a former city manager in California, told the aldermen at the meeting, billed as a visioning session, they're "wrestling well with the money monster. But it's not easy, and its not going to get easier."
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said that for her a key goal for improving Evanston would be to see that "a child who graduates from ETHS who is not going on to college will have the same vast array of career opportunities before them that the college student does."
But she conceded that the city has only "a little" of the responsibility for education and said there's a need to get the elementary, high school and community college districts more involved to reach that goal.
Young people who don't successfully launch careers frequently add to the city's crime problem. And City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that in the interest of addressing those problems, beyond a purely police response, over the past few years the city has increased its youth outreach staff from one to 3.5 full-time-equivalent employees.
But with a need to increase pension funding and a backlog of capital projects, he said, there's a limit to how much more the city can take on.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested meetings with school officials as well as officials at the university and the city's two hospitals -- which are the communities three largest employers -- to try to address the problems.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested that if other partners could do more to solve the education and career preparation issue, then the city would be able to spend more money on paving streets and fixing water mains.
Infrastructure issues are approaching a desperate condition, Wilson said, "I'd like to get ahead of it if possible."
Tisdahl said she hoped that the city could find ways to decrease the amount it spends on pensions without impacting current pension holders, increase revenue by selling water to other communities, and work with Northwestern University to keep more of the new businesses incubated on campus growing in Evanston rather than moving out of town.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the city needs to invest strategically in economic development projects and develop better ways to forecast their return on investment.
"There's a lot of risk," Burrus said, in projects like those on Howard Street. "But it is growing. We need to know what it will look like in five years."
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, suggested having more community discussions about economic development to decide how best to use the tools and what a reasonable rate of return is.