Evanston aldermen opted not to trim planned 2018 capital spending during Monday’s budget discussions, even though the spending increase will require raising the city’s debt limit.

The capital spending increase is driven largely by two projects — the planned redevelopment of the Robert Crown Center and major renovations to the public library downtown.

Spending for those projects in 2018 is budget at $15.3 million.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asked Library Director Karen Danzak Lyons whether some of the downtown library work might be deferred, to reduce next year’s budget impact.

Danzak Lyons said she’s been working with the project’s architect to try to minimize costs, hopes to reuse as much of the existing library furniture as possible, and is even looking at using some carpeting that’s been in storage for the past 23 years in the renovation work.

But she suggested that any major delays in the work would incur added costs, rather than saving money.

Tom Suffredin.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, said he shared Fiske’s concerns, but said that “even though the timing is lousy,” it’s important to maintain the city’s assets — to avoid having to spend more on the work later after “catastrophic failures” of important systems.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she believed the library should defer all non-essential work until the city is in a better place financially.

The library is 25 years old, Fleming said, but some other city buildings are much older than that. “Let’s get through the Robert Crown project first,” Fleming said.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the city is faced with a plague of deferred maintenance. But he noted that over the past decade the city has managed to cut its non-pension debt by roughly $100 million, to just under $200 million.

“My inclination is to just bump the debt limit up a bit,” Wlson added. “We have these maintenance and capital improvement needs, and we’ve seen time after time that things end up costing more if we wait.”

No formal vote was taken on the library proposal, but it did not appear that there was enough support among the aldermen to reject the library’s proposed tax levy.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz offered options for trimming about $3 million from $12 million in other capital projects to be funded with general obligation bonds.

But after extensive discussion, none of the cuts appeared to have majority support among the aldermen and Bobkiewicz withdraw the proposal.

On staffing issues, the city manager had proposed having one parks employee manage both the Chandler-Newberger and Levy Centers. After pushback from some aldermen, that plan was revised to have a full-time manager at Levy and add management of Chandler-Newberger to the duties of another department employee.

The management team also proposed creating a new environmental services coordinator position as a partial replacement of a bureau manager position being eliminated in the Public Works Agency.

Aldermen indicated they weren’t yet satisfied with plans to move the victim services unit from the Police Department to the Health Department and scale back its staffing.

After considerable discussion of various options, the staff agreed to try to come up with another approach — with a target, suggested by the mayor, of reducing expenses by $200,000 a year, rather than the $300,000 a year that would have been saved under the staff’s original plan.

A request from City Clerk Devon Reid to add an additional deputy clerk to his staff failed when none of the aldermen would offer a motion to approve it.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Shame… shame
    Marty Lyons is jumping ship with a $6 million deficit in his wake.

    The Council just approved to settle a $500,000 discrimination lawsuit.

    Employees are forced to give up their pay. (Furlough days)

    But to balance this disgusting budget, 28 people are losing their jobs and livelyhoods.

    28 *people* are being laid off, and more unpaid days to come.

    1. EPL

      Don’t forget the big boo-boo with getting rid of Ms. Williams to the tune of $110,000. Wally intended to jump ship as well, but that didn’t work out for him! Now Wally can take all the blame all by himself. An ice rink doesn’t need a library…wanna bet a lot of kids won’t actually be using it? My guess is that they may want to watch ice skaters, and be all over the building…..

    2. No to deficit

      there is only one measure to understand how good the city managers are, and that is budget deficits. No one blinked at that problem so we will have to replace them all.

      1. The Problem

        The problem in a nut shell is the 4th floor is clueless about how the Community Development Department  functions. That is why there is a perceived $6M deficit. The CD Director revolving door didn’t help this budget year. Blame this on HR and the goofy recruiting system which scares away highly qualified and experienced candidates. Wally was forced to elevate a young and inexperienced economic development planner to lead a Building Division and take the helm of a dysfunctional Department. Wait until next year when the same series of events leads to the same unrealistic building permit projections by staff. 

  2. Library changes

    Did the Board survey borroweres as to what they want—esp. given costs ? Of course people will always want ‘more’ but perhaps if told the cost for items they will re-consider.

    With the library budget and reduction in books and peroidicals, all these changes don’t seem wise. As to the plan to put in a lounge and some form of cafe, I’d remind them that Chicago planned that for the Harold  Washington Library but later cut it out after realiizing that the homeless would basically take it over.

    1. Library Renovations versus richer communities
      I must admit the renderings of the proposed changes make me think of buildings in Silicon Valley or some very successful tech company in Chicago.
      But is that the model for a library ?
      I’m some what familiar with the Skokie and Highland Park libraries and very aware of the Wilmette library.. At least the last two have much higher resident incomes but their buildings are much more utilitarian—despite at least Wilmette doing several renovations over the years. Evanston makes these pale by comparison–both existing and proposed. Is the purpose to have the most modern/flashy or be a good library for learning ? It seems the library Board has opted for the former.
      The bond proposal, as most bond proposals do, says “investors will pay for it so don’t worry.” But it is the taxpayer [actually current, their children and maybe grandchildren] who repays the investors. Will investors demand high rates ? Do taxpayers think the return on investment [at least a better educated community] is worth the expense.
      NU has already shipped a vast number of books off-campus since they don’t think students, faculty and researchers need immediate access [or is it books at all?]. Does EPL plan to keep up with books and periodicals or have a library with all the bells and whistles for patrons who want to sit in easy chairs with their IPads—or Twitter all day?

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