Officials reportedly are considering setting up a blue ribbon panel of financial experts to explore ways of reigning in Evanston’s budget.

Officials reportedly are considering setting up a blue ribbon panel of financial experts to explore ways of reigning in Evanston’s budget.

At a meeting of the Central Street Neighbors Association Wednesday night, former 6th Ward Aldermanic candidate Mark Sloane said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl has told him she likes the idea and wants to start talking to city staff about it.

The city’s assistant city manager and finance director, Marty Lyons, said the special blue ribbon panel formed last year to study the city’s public safety pension funding crisis produced a “fantastic” report that “folks in other communities are looking to for guidance now.”

But Lyons noted that it took nine months from the time aldermen decided in January to appoint the committee until it issued its final report in late October.

The city has less time than that now to come up with a new budget for the next fiscal year.

Sloane said a budget panel could meet more frequently than the pension panel did and produce a report more quickly.

“Presbyterian homes has a lot of retired CFOs [chief financial officers] who are now not doing anything,” Sloane said. “I’d like to see the committee meet maybe once a week for three months and almost take a zero-based budgeting approach to the city budget.”

About two dozen people gathered for the meeting in the waiting room at the Central Street Metra station and discussed city spending in the intervals between arriving trains and public address announcements of schedule delays.

CSNA President Jeff Smith said he’s dismayed that budget discussions in the city seem to always end up with a doomsday rhetorical technique — “Give us more money, or I’ll shoot this puppy.”

“It seems to presuppose that everything is essential,” Smith added.

In response to a question from Smith, Lyons said the city is pressuring vendors to cut increases in city service contracts that may have been rising at the rate of inflation for years.

Public safety — police and fire services — makes up nearly a quarter of the entire $234 million city budget when pension costs are included.

Asked about the potential for reducing that expense, Lyons said some communities hire part-time paramedics who have full-time paramedic jobs in other communities — and in that way avoid having to pay pension benefits to the part-time workers.

He also noted that while Evanston garbage trucks use two-man crews — smaller than the three-man crews used in Chicago — that staffing is still heavier than that used by private contractors, who operate their trucks with just a driver.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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