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Aldermen get budget workshop report

Evanston aldermen listened to a report on the recent public budget workshops Monday night and took no action on it — waiting for City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to unveil his budget plan later this month.

The report added just one new element to what’s been discussed before — the results of an online poll the city conducted that city officials say drew about 1,000 participants.

Evanston aldermen listened to a report on the recent public budget workshops Monday night and took no action on it — waiting for City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to unveil his budget plan later this month.

The report added just one new element to what’s been discussed before — the results of an online poll the city conducted that city officials say drew about 1,000 participants.

Comparing results of the poll with the priority rankings established by participants in the series of four community budget workshops shows some differences.

Workshop participants were somewhat more inclined to favor staff reductions, including closing the branch libraries and one of the city’s five fire stations.

Poll participants showed more interest in consolidating city aid to social service agencies to improve efficiencies, refinancing the city’s debt to reduce current payments, reducing volunteer boards and commissions and encouraging commercial development, a concept that advocates believe will generate more new tax revenue than residential development would.

There was no way to tell from the poll results as presented whether city employees, who would have a personal interest in not cutting staff jobs, participated heavily in the poll. Staff members were not observed to have voted at the budget workshops.

Aldermen offered little reaction to the budget workshop report, although Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, praised the participants and the staff members who provided research help and facilitated the sessions.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who won endorsement from the firefighters’ union in her campaign for mayor last spring, raised the only signs of criticism of the outcome, asking "What information did you have that indicated the community would be safe if we closed a fire station?"

The city manager replied that the workshop participants had been provided information from Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky about the department’s staffing levels before taking the vote.

Bobkiewicz said he plans to provide a "broad overview" of his proposed budget by Friday, Dec. 18, and release the full proposed budget document by Thursday, Dec. 31.

The aldermen are required by state law to adopt a balanced budget by the end of February for the fiscal year that starts March 1 .

The aldermen scheduled their first workshop session on the budget for Saturday, Jan. 9.

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